Saying Goodbye to QASymphony
Well, my time at QASymphony has come to an end. This is bittersweet for me. I’ve had an amazing journey over the past three years and I leave some great memories and friends behind. As I’ve been wrapping up, I’ve thought a lot about how it all began. Over three years ago, I was having lunch with my friend Sangram Vajre. At the time, I was working at PGi, and starting to think about my next adventure. Sangram had just accepted the job as CMO of Terminus, after spending several years in marketing at Salesforce/Pardot.
I told Sangram I was interested in doing something more entrepreneurial. He mentioned a company called QASymphony that he had talked to during his job search. He said I should meet with Dave Keil, the CEO.
I had never heard of QASymphony. I did some research on the company and learned they were in the software testing space. They had just raised a Series A round from BIP Capital for $2.5 million and seemed to be doing well.
Honestly, it didn’t sound that interesting to me at the time. I didn’t know much about QA and software testing. But, I do like to network with people around town so I thought it would be good at least meet with Dave Keil. Maybe I could connect him with some people in my network and help him find a CMO.
I met Dave for breakfast one morning at Corner Cafe in Buckhead. We immediately connected on our New Jersey roots (even though I am from the far better part of the Garden State – South Jersey) and our love of baseball. We are both big Springsteen fans. Actually, before we met, Dave had discovered a blog I wrote entitled, What Bruce Springsteen Can Teach Us About Business. Unfortunately, Dave is a Mets fan and I’m a Phillies fan. But, since the Phillies had owned the Mets recently, that didn’t bother me. Little did I know that the Mets would go on to dominate the Phillies over the past few seasons.
Dave started telling me the QASymphony story and I was intrigued. They were disrupting a sleepy category that had been dominated by Hewlett Packard’s Quality Center software for many years. HP had not innovated the Quality Center product and seemed content just to milk a large customer base.
QASymphony offered a better solution. Their qTest software was innovative and could scale for the enterprise. Even before I joined, they had landed some great customers – Barclays, Adobe, Salesforce and Zappos. It was clear to me that QASymphony was meeting a real need in the market and had a huge opportunity to take a big piece of HP Quality Center’s $1 billion customer base.
After meeting the QASymphony team and the board, Dave offered me the CMO job and I decided to join. It ended up being one of the best decisions of my career. Over the past three years, we’ve grown the revenue about 500% and added more amazing enterprise customers including Disney, Nordstrom, Amazon, USAA, Boeing, Office Depot and many more. This year Inc. Magazine named QASymphony the 8th fastest growing private software company in America on their annual Inc 500 list. Beyond the strong business performance, we’ve also been recognized as one of the “Best Places to Work” by the Atlanta Business Chroniclefor three years in a row.
The results speak for themselves. But, I thought in my final QASymphony blog, I’d it would be fun to share some of my favorite memories over the past three years. So here we go…
Dude, Where’s My Computer
Prior to joining QASymphony, I was working in the Terminus building in Buckhead, probably one of the nicer buildings in the entire city (shown below).
You get pretty spoiled when you work in a plush office space with lots of amenities. QASymphony’s office, well, let’s just say it was no Terminus building. My first week at work, someone actually walked into my office while I was at lunch and stole my computer. It was a pretty tough way start to my new job at a startup. On the bright side, things could only get better. Looking back, I do have some good memories of that office. As we grew, we just didn’t have space for all the people we were hiring. Everyone was sitting on top of each other. Sales reps had to do demos sitting on the floor in the hallway outside the office. You can see a picture of our old office below. It was tight.
Eventually, we moved down the road to 550 Pharr Road where we now have space on two floors for over 70 people. We even have security badges so no one is getting their computer stolen again. We’ve come a long way.
Fighting the Competition, Literally
When I started at QASymphony, we weren’t actively managing our Google presence. I noticed that one of our competitors was buying our trademarked company name and using it in their ad copy. Now this is a shady “bait-and-switch” tactic that Google generally does not allow. If I were still working at a large company, I would have called our legal counsel to have them send a cease and desist letter to our competitor. But, we didn’t have an in-house counsel and I didn’t want to get a big legal bill from our outside attorney. So, I just decided to call them out on social media. I took a screenshot of the ad and Tweeted it to our competitor. We ended up getting into a back-and-forth that was pretty funny to me. You can see the exchange below.
I don’t think our competitor took it so well. In the end, those illegal ads came down right away. Mission accomplished with no legal fees! But, at our next trade show, the marketing leader from the competitor confronted me about the incident. He clearly wasn’t amused and seemed like he wanted to fight. Now, I’m not one to back down and things did get a bit heated. In the end we exchanged contact information and agreed to take any future issues offline. But I would claim victory in this conflict.
When I started at QASymphony, I knew the website needed a major overhaul. When you’re a SaaS business, your website is your “virtual sales rep” and it needs to work very hard for your company. We also wanted a site that would make us look like an enterprise-grade company and also rank well in the search engines. So, we went through a big redesign project to create the new QASymphony.com. We brought in Narwal Agency to do the design and build work. They have been an amazing partner to me during my time at QASymphony. Together we spent about three months creating the new QASymphony.com. We launched in November 2015 and saw an immediate impact. Traffic went up. Our bounce rate went way down. And visitors were viewing more pages on the site than ever before. I’m very proud of that site. You can see some screenshots below.
When I was at PGi, we struggled with SEO. We were in the online meetings/web conferencing space yet we were on page 8 for those search terms. I’m sure you’ve heard this joke:
“What’s the easiest place to hide a dead body? Page 2 of Google search results.”
Well think about being on page 8. No one could find us. We didn’t have a chance. At QASymphony, we had a similar problem. We were not ranking well for terms like “test management” and “software testing tools”. So we put a major focus on this area. We optimized our site for search. We created tons of relevant content. We built backlinks. We used a lot of the popular SEO tools like Moz, Yoast and SEMRush. Over time, we started to move the needle. Eventually we hit #1 for the high volume terms like “software testing tools” and this had a big impact on our site traffic driven by organic search. You can see this below.
Through our attribution tracking we saw organic search become the top driver of opportunities and revenue for the company. Every time we would hit the #1 spot for a new search term, our team would send out a message on our Slack channel to celebrate our success. Yeah, we’re total marketing nerds.
Webinars, Webinars and More Webinars
One thing I noticed about the QASymphony customer was that they were very hungry for information. There just didn’t seem to be enough good content out there for them to consume. So, we decided to try out our own webinar program. We enlisted the help of an industry thought leader named Keith Klain. You can learn more about him and listen to his excellent podcast at QualityRemarks.com. We had Keith do a webinar about software testing trends for the year ahead. We did some small promotion and before we knew it, we had 3500 people registered! In fact, we actually had to switch to an entirely new webinar platform to accommodate the large audience. Keith’s webinar was excellent and served as a springboard for QASymphony’s monthly webinar series. In the last two years, we’ve done more than 50 webinars with tens of thousands of attendees. You can see a sample of what our webinar looks like below.
While webinars usually are not the first touchpoint with a new customer, when we analyze the full customer journey, you almost always see webinars come up during the evaluation and purchase process. Plus, we get high marks on our webinar program from our current customers, so it also helps with retention.
When I first joined QASymphony, I thought it would be fun to do our own conference. I had seen local companies like Terminus and SalesLoft have great success with their events and thought that we should give it a try. If you’ve never planned an event for 100+ people before, you might not have an appreciation for how much work goes into it. I know I didn’t. There are just so many details you have to account for – venue, content, promotion, premium items, food, etc. And most importantly, you have to get people to show up. I remember launching the website and opening registration for our 1-day conference in Atlanta that we called “Quality Jam”. It seemed like weeks went by before we sold our first ticket. Slowly we saw the sales come in. We also gave away a lot of free tickets in our first year so we could fill the room. In the end, we had about 150 people there for the event. We even had a few paid sponsors participate. The event ended up going well and we received positive feedback from the attendees. You can see a picture from Quality Jam 2016 below.
In year two we stepped up our game. We extended the event to two days so we could add additional content. We also had a party at the Sweetwater Brewery catered by Fox Brothers. We ended up with over 400 attendees. It was a really big event and again we got great feedback from attendees.
We also recently tried our first international event with Quality Jam London and had over 100 people attend. For 2018, we have to move the event to a bigger venue because we’re expecting 600+ people. In just two years, Quality Jam has become one of the must-attend events in the industry.
After Quality Jam 2017, one of our prospects from a Fortune 100 company wrote a recap of the event to share feedback with his leadership team. He forwarded the email to some of our executives. I’ll share some quotes from the email below:
QualityJam 2017 was a conference dedicated to testers sharing ideas about where the testing discipline is going and the tools and best practices to get us there… I have gone from being skeptically interested in QASymphony to seeing qTest as my personal preferred solution for test management… The QASymphony customers are like the people I see at a mixed martial arts fight, cheering their fighter on in the cage. These are legitimate customers that I spoke with like Home Depot, Sony, Salesforce, Barclays and Disney… The company has a solid and growing user base, they are well-funded, and in my opinion from meeting everyone from the CEO on down in the company they have some of the best and brightest people. Like a mini-Google in the Atlanta area, QASymphony has become a destination employer where many hope to work which allows them to be selective in hiring.
Seeing that feedback confirmed that all the time and energy we put into the Quality Jam conference really paid off. I’m excited to see where the conference goes in the future.
Probably my best memory at QASymphony was the time spent working with my marketing team. I was fortunate to be able to recruit some great people to come work for us.
My first hire was Reed Gusmus who I worked with at PGi. Reed ran our lead gen program and was instrumental in driving revenue for the company over the past 3 years. About 70% to 80% of QASymphony’s new business revenue is marketing sourced and Reed made that happen.
Then I brought in Gina Kawalek to take on our events, social media, content, marketing automation and more. She has been our utility player, always taking on every challenge with a positive attitude and a smile on her face. She has also become the driving force behind our Quality Jam and is a big reason that conference has been so successful.
I brought one of our top Sales Engineers, Ryan Yackel over to our team to lead product marketing. Ryan does an amazing job with our all the content related to our products – presentations, web pages, collateral, webinars, etc. He’s even become a mini-celebrity in the testing world with his engaging conference presentations and his “Whiteboard Friday” video series. He’s also a pretty good writer even though his blog posts do require a lot of editing.
The most recent hire was or our Marketing Associate, Joseph Arnold. He gets involved with almost everything we do in marketing and has been a great asset for our team. No matter what you throw at him, he always remains calm and collected. He has been a team great contributor and has a bright future ahead.
I always say the most important thing a marketing leader can do is build his “people stack”. No matter what MarTech tools or great ideas you have, you can’t make any of it happen if you don’t have the right people in place. When you have the right team, there’s really nothing you can’t accomplish. I just want to thank Reed, Gina, Ryan and Joseph for being awesome. You guys rock.
A Great Run
So this is it. The end of my time at QASymphony. It has been a great run. Whenever I start a new job, I always try as hard as I can to leave it better than I found it. I believe that’s the case with QASymphony. Big thanks to the entire QASymphony family for making my experience so memorable. Even though I’m gone, I plan to be an active QASymphony alumni. So, you haven’t seen the last of me.
What’s next? I’m going to be the CMO of Parkmobile. They have an amazing app that lets you pay for parking on your mobile device. No more annoying meters! Just pay on your phone. If you don’t have it, go download it right now! They’re already in nine of the top ten cities in the US and growing fast. I start in a few weeks. I promise that you will be hearing much more about that company in the very near future. Stay tuned…