How it started
Continuous Sales and the NRR Economy
A new breed of CRM
100 apps and a data warehouse
The Rise of the Customer Platform
How it started
Ever since we started Planhat we've kept a low profile and focused on building the foundation of what we believe will be the next generation customer platform, for companies in the NRR economy.
Over the years there have been many people looking from the outside-in, wanting to know who we are and what we're doing, so this post and some that will follow are here to provide some answers! Whether you are one of the hundreds of future team members we plan to hire, a customer, a prospect or just curious about Planhat, we hope you find our view of modern business, technology and customer centricity at least thought provoking, and maybe even inspiring!
Niklas and I have collectively spent close to 30 years in B2B SaaS in a wide variety of roles. We’ve been in sales, customer success, product management, c-suite, executive leadership, board, chairman, and now founder, roles. Throughout this time we have lived the highs and lows of building businesses and gathered our thoughts on what it takes to run the successful modern company we want Planhat to be.
From day one Planhat has been remote first. Talent is blind to borders so it was a no brainer to be open to global talent. We’re also strong believers in personalization, seeing and treating everyone as unique individuals. This includes, among other things, giving team members the freedom to manage their daily schedule, to balance life and work, and the flexibility to live wherever in the world they find most inspiring.
We agreed to build the foundation of Planhat without external investment. We knew that building something generational would take time, and when you’re trying to build a skyscraper you spend extra time ensuring the foundations are solid. External investors can provide a lot of benefits, but not having to stress over early growth expectations gave us time to build, so for the first five years we had no permanent people in sales and marketing. Maybe growth was slower as a result but it gave us time to think deeply about long term product design so it felt like a price worth paying. Plus we’ve roughly doubled or tripled the business every year so it’s fair to say things never got boring!
Thirdly, our preference is to have a relatively smaller and more ambitious team full of world-class talent, over a larger and likely more mediocre team. Favoring quality over quantity may not always be the right move, but it allows for a more efficient and effective organization, and more importantly we think it’s more fun. More time can be spent building real value for customers and less time is lost in process and administration. Of course our team is still growing (and fast), but we believe that one outstanding person has the capabilities of several less talented people and will be inspired working alongside other equally capable team members.
To summarize, we have taken a far more long term view than what is normal for young companies, we have been extremely product focused and we are assembling a team of global talent we believe capable of running a world class organization.
Planhat has been remote first from day one. It always seemed like a no brainer - why would we want to limit our available talent pool? In Stockholm where we started there’s a population of about 1 million people. There’s almost 8 billion people in the world at the time of writing so it’s hard to imagine why any modern company that can recruit globally wouldn’t. Sure, if you run a restaurant or Auto Repair Shop and depend on physical presence then you have no option, but these days almost all companies have roles that can be filled regardless of geography.
Not only does it make sense for the business, remote first also comes with a lot of short and long term benefits for our team members and our customers.
On a day to day basis it means people can manage their daily schedule to what works for them. One that makes work efficient and life enjoyable. Some people like to sleep in and work all night, others are early risers. Others need a longer break in the middle of the day to pick up kids from school, walk the dog or buy groceries. So on a day to day basis there’s clearly a lot of benefits for team members.
In the longer term, amazing opportunities open up. You can live anywhere in the world and we can ensure team members are located close to customers. Someone with a family perhaps dreams of moving to an idyllic countryside away from all the buzz and noise of the city. Someone else may spend half the year by the beach in a warm country and the other half in a skiing resort in the mountains.
We have a lot of team members that have lived in several different countries during their time at Planhat. Not once did we feel that work should limit your options to create the life you want, wherever it may be in the world.
Five years before the pandemic and everyone going remote we started building Planhat like this. Today we still feel the same way. But as we all know, working remotely comes with some challenges, the most obvious one being missing out on the magic that happens when meeting in real life.
For this we have a setup with permanent and temporary hubs. In our case, at the time of writing we have permanent hubs in Stockholm, London, Kiev, New York and Los Angeles. Even team members living in these cities are completely free to decide if working from the office is right. But for those who do, there's almost always someone in the office so spending a few days there every now and then is an opportunity to socialize and get energized. Even for team members who don’t happen to live in one of these cities, the permanent hubs provide an opportunity to go for a shorter or longer period of time, switch environments, train, align and catch up with new and old colleagues.
In addition to the permanent hubs we have temporary pop-up hubs across the world where parts of the team meet and work together for a shorter period of time. Again, it’s not mandatory for anyone, but a great opportunity for some.
Examples from last year include a 10 day hackathon in Greece, renting a house for a month in Malibu, LA or having a tech meetup in Medellín, Colombia. We’ve gathered in the mountains in Georgia to ski together in the mornings and work together in the evenings. Since several people with kids are joining, this time we’ve organized activities for the kids as well. This approach means even parents can enjoy leisure and work, while at the same time keeping family close.
We think this article will be obsolete in a few years. Soon remote first and flexible will just be normal, but with many companies asking people to return to offices after the pandemic it seems the world is not quite there yet. To us this is just the way to build a company in the modern age.
Continuous Sales and the NRR Economy
One of the fundamental technological shifts we’ve seen recently is the transition to delivering products as services.
I bought my first CD back in 1991. I still remember the CD (Guns ‘N Roses, Use Your Illusion), but I’ve forgotten where I bought it. You’d go into the store, ask for the CD, pay and go home. You would never see the shop worker again and maybe never return to their store, but you would listen to that same CD for a long time afterwards. Sales was about getting the customer in the store and helping them make that one decision.
These days, most music stores have closed since everyone subscribes to a music streaming service. You get access to a huge library of music right away and you only pay a small monthly fee. But if you want to keep the service you have to pay that small fee on a recurring basis, every month.
Whereas in the store selling was a transaction that happened at a point in time, today the initial sale is less important. What matters is keeping the customer happy so they stay and keep paying for a long time.
In this old world, to sell you needed to understand your customer at a single point in time, but now you need a continuous understanding of the customer as the sale is an ongoing and recurring process based on value realization. Further, if pricing is consumption based the “sale” in the old sense is automated away and the new true sale is all about growing value realization continuously over time.
Music of course is just an example. The entire world is shifting to subscriptions and consumption or value based revenue. We see it with anti-bias software, computational capacity, warehouse robots, health services, education, martech, cybersecurity, decarbonization software, and beyond (and yes, those are all actual customers of Planhat).
There’s plenty written about how this affects the economics of businesses but fundamentally it boils down to existing customers quickly becoming the main growth driver and revenue stream of modern businesses, both as more businesses adapt their business model and as existing businesses grow. This evolution of commercial structures has enabled what is known as the NRR economy.
A new breed of CRM
Revenue is the lifeblood of a business. To survive you need to sell. Since sales is so important, the tools to support it (traditionally referred to as CRM) was one of the first software categories to emerge.
Customer registers have been around since before most of us were born. At the beginning of this century Salesforce (still one of the biggest and most well known software companies) gained fame as a key driver in moving CRM to the cloud. Still today CRM is one of the biggest software categories, and there’s a myriad of vendors serving all ends of the market with great features like advanced permissions and opinionated yet flexible data models.
The foundation of these systems however was laid in those times when I bought that first CD. When sales (and I admit this is a bit simplified though not wrong) was a set of contacts and deals worked through a sales pipeline to close as won or lost and then largely forgotten. The challenges and opportunities presented by the new continuous sales motion are fundamentally different.
In the NRR economy ‘sales’ activities are more numerous, less linear, span across departments and can last forever. Possibilities to offer a previously unimaginable degree of personalization open up the doors to increased NRR and also mean the process and activities can be unique to each company, customer and journey.
What’s more this new world is generating significantly more data, across more systems and often these are new types of high volume data. Threaded email conversations and support chats with many participants, user touchpoints, consumption thresholds and product engagement, recurring billing cycles and payment statuses all need to be tracked and stored over time, and made available to trigger actions.
To handle the new requirements of flexibility, adaptability, data management and inter-departmental collaboration a new type of tool is needed. One that is flexible enough to manage all variations of customer journeys, powerful enough to process vast volumes of data and simple enough for anyone to adjust, maintain, and use.
This last point is key. The NRR economy demands that every department puts the customer front and center of their thinking and therefore needs access to customer data albeit with advanced permissioning. Teams not only need to be able to query the data in an easy way when they need it, but the data must also be actionable and drive manual or automated workflows that in turn generate more data that feeds back into the model.
When your business’s future is based on the value you deliver every day, you need everyone focused on that value creation with easy access to the tool(s) and data that enable it. Traditional CRMs were not built with this set of challenges in mind.
100 apps and a data warehouse
The traditional CRMs, once the systems of record upon which most customer related work was performed, are seeing an increasing portion of their market slip away as they were not built to support the new types of data and challenges created by these continuous customer dynamics.
New tools designed in this era and aware of the complexities in subscription customer lifecycles have appeared to fill the void. The market has exploded with products - RPA’s, AI/ML, Online Whiteboarding, Community platforms, Product Analytics tools, Data Notebooks, Onboarding systems, Project Management tools, WorkOS systems. Subscription Management tools and more - each used by different teams to help them navigate this new world centered around the ongoing, multifaceted relationship with the customer.
As a result, customer data is now distributed across a mind boggling array of apps, meaning executives and data teams no longer have a place to get an overview or report on customers. More recently therefore we’ve seen data warehouses go from something exotic to something mainstream, and to help shuffle data from all the different apps into the data warehouses a variety of ETL solutions have become commonplace.
Now each team can work in its own pointed tools which better support them than the old CRM, and at the same time companies have a data warehouse powerful enough to handle the new types and volumes of data.
In theory, all great. A conceptual clean world where all teams use best of breed tools and at the same time almost any analysis can be done across customers in the data warehouse. But the reality is not quite so simple.
Imagine a simple but very real example. You want to invite some of your key users to an event. Specifically, you want to invite users from companies paying more than $10k per year, who have chatted with your support team at least twice in the past 60 days and are regularly using your service. And you want to put them in an email drip campaign until they sign up via a form in your app.
Naturally you start in your email marketing tool, but quickly realize you don’t have the data to identify your audience. So now you need to ask your data team (or the dev who doubles as your data team) to pull that list of users and email addresses from the data warehouse (assuming all required data is available there in the first place) and send it to you in an excel that you will upload to your marketing tool.
In practice it won’t work because you need to kick off that campaign now and you don’t have time to wait for the data team (or the dev) to create that list, and they have a bunch of similar demands from other teams. But even if that wasn’t the case, say your marketing team is also really good with database queries… how would you know to take a user out of the campaign after they signed up?
So you need this contact list to dynamically update based on changes in the data warehouse, but unless your sole responsibility is to refresh and check the list it won’t happen.
To solve this we’ve seen different ways of scheduling reports and automating tasks, eventually leading to reverse ETLs popping up and providing the ability to sync data from your data warehouse back into your many applications.
Theoretically it should work and in some cases it does. But more often than not it’s not a solution, it’s a hack. In practice the sync is too slow to be useful at the frontline and it requires a new set-up, a new step and resources for every new use case that comes up.
Plus we didn’t even get into user permissions and data access and how that is managed across the apps and the data warehouse. Or what if a customer responds to one of those emails? How will that affect the email sequence for the user… and how will the support team know about this email conversation when the user asks a question about it? To do it right you’d manually need to wire together most of your apps, often bi-directionally and think through the data model and mapping between each - somewhere between very difficult and unrealistic. Now try to add advanced access control to that and it’s clear this is a great theoretical set-up for data teams in some scenarios but not a viable solution for the day-to-day operational requirements of a business.
What we are seeing are great tools being created to plaster over the cracks in the underlying architecture, but not the long term solutions this generational technological change requires.
The Rise of the Customer Platform
We believe in a new breed of CRM, rooted in the complex ‘post sales’ world and designed for the challenges and opportunities presented by the new continuous sales motion.
Some people talk about Customer Success Software, others talk about PLG CRMs or that Planhat is their Data warehouse CRM but we think the concept is much MUCH bigger. We see a way to build your business around your customer, recognising that the customer journey may begin with freemium, a direct sale or a hybrid, might last forever and will for sure go through a range of growth cycles each designed around maximizing NRR and customer value realization.
We spent the first five years building the foundation for the next generation customer platform to solve for exactly this. We’ve drawn inspiration from traditional CRMs, Data Warehouses, modern Automation and Collaboration tools, even the Office Suite, and focused on creating a beautiful and simple UI (we’re Swedish after all), but we’ve built something altogether different.
The building blocks of Planhat are the core concepts of tools with which we’re all familiar:
1. A Data model: Accounts, contacts, conversations, usage, etc, like a CRM but extremely flexible to help you organize and consolidate your customer data.
2. Workflow: Tasks, alerts and processes, like a project management tool but connected to your data model so you can take timely action.
3. Presentation: The data analytics power of a BI tool, but with the visual storytelling of a Miro or Figma so you can draw with your data and present to stakeholders.
4. Automations and Integration: Like a low code / no code connector, say Zapier, to minimize human tasks and sync data to/from other tools at the click of a button.
These building blocks work together seamlessly, Data can sync to Planhat using an integration, be organized in the data model with permission controls, kick off a workflow be it a project plan, email sequence or something else, and have results available to analyze and visualize all within seconds. The flexibility of the tools and their relationship to one another mean you can easily customize sales outreach, onboarding plans, user journeys, PLG pipelines, expansion playbooks, partner management processes and much more, using the same building blocks.
Plus we made a decision early on not to license by User meaning all our customers get unlimited users. Customers are the beating heart of a company, so it makes no sense to silo customer data. We believe a customer platform should democratize access to customer data, so all teams can find what they need when they need it and we find the impact of this is transformational for our customers.
To date we’ve focused on building out these four components to solve many of the use cases required for modern “Customer Success”. Among other things, our customers use Planhat to automatically engage with their Users, to structure and consolidate their customer data, to guide key processes across different stakeholder groups and to visualize outcomes.
But there is no reason it has to stop there. The building blocks of Planhat, infused with data integrated from connected systems, enable you to democratize your customer data, with strict permission controls, and take action on top of it. Your Product Managers can see usage data from Mixpanel blended with product feedback requests from JIRA, and organize it by region using classifications from your CRM. Your Marketing team can easily identify a cohort of Decision Makers with renewals in the next quarter but declining usage across a specific product and target them with a conditional drip campaign. Your support team will be able to prioritize tickets based on all the contextual data from your other systems - usage, subscription, profile of ticket requester - to ensure the right customer gets the right answer at the right time.
The use cases are endless but all centered around the customer and their ongoing realization of value, which in our modern age drives revenue growth.
We see a future where ‘Customer Success’ is not a department, it is the first thought of every employee in every company. ‘Customer Success’ will be what enables a Sales rep to hit their quota, a Product Manager to sleep easy at night and a CEO to attract more talent. The customer centric demands of the NRR economy require technology born in this age, designed to handle the complexities of new data types and vast data volumes, accessible and easy to use for all team members so they are informed to deliver on their piece of this puzzle and flexible enough to handle the diverse hyper personalization of modern customer journeys.
We will do our best to make Planhat the tool of choice for these challenges. We are hiring for many roles today and will continue to do so so if you’ve found this an interesting read please drop us a line and get in touch - there is a big future ahead.