How did Amaze go from 0 to 21,000 paid customers with strategic partnerships and relationships?

Amaze has managed to go from 0 to 21,000 customers in a very short span of time. Read Aaron's biggest takeaways on how he grew Amaze to millions in ARR using strategic planning and partnerships.

How did Amaze go from 0 to 21,000 paid customers with strategic partnerships and relationships?

In this post of "My First 1000 Users", we will cover the story of Amaze and how it got over 21,000 users with strategic partnerships and relationships.

The content of this case study is taken from the podcast episode I recorded with Aaron Day, the CEO of Amaze.

Let's dive in.

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First 100 paying customers

Amaze has transitioned from an agency model to a SaaS model. As an agency, Amaze had already worked with other agencies and a lot of fortune 500 companies around mobile-first advertising.

When Amaze launched its first version of the SaaS platform called Famous Pro, it had imagery and templates based on their previous ad work.

So the team reached out to the agencies they had worked with through phone and email and asked them to try out the product for a special discounted price.

The first 100 agencies loved the product and started using it for their clients, and their clients loved the experience. The product went viral from there onwards.

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Learning #1 - When testing your product, it is okay to do things that don't scale well.

The Amaze team manually reached out to more than 100 previous clients to pitch their product and gain feedback.

Your first customers can be among your closest network of friends and family. So remember to reach out to your network while testing your product.

How did Aaron go from being Global Partnership Lead at Canva to being CEO of Amaze?

Before joining Amaze as CEO, Aaron had already been CEO of 2 other large companies. He started his career at a tech company and worked there for ten years, disrupting the publishing space.

Then he moved on to become the CEO of a large industrial company and then the CEO of a private equity company.

But Aaron's passion lay in design and publishing in the online and tech space. So he decided to join Canva at an early age before Canva had a lot of users and growth. Then he moved out to become the CEO of Amaze.

The journey from 100 to 1000 customers

Aaron wanted to get a lot of feedback from Amaze's existing customers before scaling the product to more users.

According to Aaron, companies should not change their product based on the first set of feedback. Aaron wanted to spend 3-6 months multiplying the team's effort to get as much feedback as possible before building a product development plan.

So there was a lot of emphasis on strategy and research while scaling beyond 100 customers.

Aaron is a huge fan of Steve Jobs' philosophy of creating simple and beautiful products. So his team used software like usertesting.com, where they paid to have a group of the audience come in and use their product.

Amaze's team watched the users open and interact with the product to track the drop-off and friction points.

They also kept a close eye on the trends in the market and the evolution of other SaaS products to maintain their edge of being unique and different.

Since the cost was also a factor to keep in mind while scaling and developing the product, the team spent their efforts on the first things that could solve a problem for the users or disrupt the market space.

It's the hiring decisions of Aaron that aided this approach. He has built his team to have equal groups of people who relentlessly focus on solving problems and the other group on disrupting the market.

From 100 users onwards, Amaze's team focussed on capturing the user story. They dived deep into why the existing users were using the product and documented the user story.

For this process, the team monitored the users of their product and reached out to specific users who were using it extensively to understand their needs and how it saved their time and effort.

Then this user story was used to target similar users through paid search and email campaigns.

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Learning #2 - Don't rush to scale your product from 100 to more users. As Aaron says, go under the hood of your product and figure out why customers like a particular feature and what can be done to improve it.

Spend time listening to your customer's feedback. Try to read between the lines of what they like about your product.

The journey from 1000 to 21,000 customers

Today Amaze has around 21,000 customers and about 15 million dollars in ARR.

To scale beyond 1000 users, the company followed three strategies.

  • The first one was to enable a partnership affiliate model.

    The company reached out to partners that aggregated resellers like partnerstack.com and impact.com and let them promote its product.

    Amaze also focussed on large platforms that had their target customer base.

    A big part of this strategy was getting into the right partner and affiliate ecosystems with the right audience for their product.
  • The second strategy involved integrating with clients that have massive reach. Amaze integrates its software inside clients with a massive reach like social networking platforms, large eCommerce platforms, SaaS companies etc. This is where Amaze gets most of its revenue from right now.

    Amaze has found several strategic partners with millions of weekly active user reach. The massive reach helps Amaze to get new users and grow.

  • The third strategy involves reaching directly to consumers through paid media, organic growth, email etc. This approach requires the most effort because the team needs to build user stories and brands to reach directly to consumers.

How does Aaron manage to build relationships with massive affiliate networks and eCommerce platforms?

Today Amaze has integrations with Shopify and BigCommerce, which have a combined user base of millions of merchants and sellers.

So when Aaron wanted Amaze's platform to be on their app store, his team did a lot of research on these companies, their obstacles and their target customers.

Then Amaze figured out how to provide value to those customers as if they were Shopify or BigCommerce selling those customers.

Then Amaze's team reached out to the leadership team of Shopify and BigCommerce, telling them how they are talking with their ideal customers and suggesting they work together to close these customers. This process created positive leverage for Amaze.

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Learning #3 - Figure out what your ideal clients want and help them achieve it. This approach can help you land big clients at a very early stage.

Amaze did this by starting a dialogue with Shopify and BigCommerce's ideal clients. Hence it became a no-brainer decision for these platforms to work with Amaze.

What is Aaron's approach to PR and podcast appearances? How does he measure the ROI of such activities?

When Aaron joined Canva as a global partnership leader, there weren't many titles similar to his. But Aaron fundamentally believes that you don't sell to anyone, you partner with them, and he has been building partnerships all his life.

And that is why he is highly passionate about this space of trying to figure out how to help small businesses and solopreneurs sell better and grow a business through strategic partnerships.

And for that reason, he feels he needs to be very public. He has to be out there connecting and partnering with people.

PR activities and podcast appearances help accelerate these efforts of meeting and connecting more people.

This allows him to get more and more people around who believe in his platform, those who can help him promote his platform and help him discover new use cases for his platform.

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Learning #4 - Every activity of yours might not have a direct impact on the ROI of the company.

But if your actions are for a good cause and you genuinely try to help others and put value out there in the world, it will build meaningful connections that will help grow your business.

Why does Amaze not focus on SEO-written content and organic traffic?

Aaron is still building out his team before diving into content and organic traffic resources.

Amaze has hired a new VP of marketing who took the first four months building out a great marketing team and getting ready to scale.

Aaron believes in well-planned moves rather than building as you go. So the team is still working on processes and structure before they start posting content online.

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Learning #5 - Always have a plan. When growing a company, it is okay not to pursue every marketing channel.

But make sure you master a few. In Amaze's case, they delayed doing SEO and content marketing unless they had a team ready and still managed to scale to 21,000 users.

Why does Aaron prefer a planned approach rather than launching fast, getting feedback quickly and then iterating?

When you are a small company, the senior leadership does everything from talking to customers to launching beta and building the product.

According to Aaron, startups should consider building a strategy around preparing to scale. They should find resources and mentorship to find the correct scaling path. But when it comes to spending money on marketing, most startups struggle to get past the idea of user growth.

Building a strategy around scaling also helps the founder prioritize his responsibilities.

What are Aaron's biggest failures while running Amaze as a CEO?

One of the biggest failures of Aaron's journey as Amaze's CEO is not hiring the right talent.

When you hire a superstar, that particular segment of your company grows much faster.

When companies are small, they have a lot of cost pressure when hiring talent. This results in companies hiring junior talent to save money. But Aaron believes the leadership team should always focus on hiring A+ talent.

Aaron made a similar mistake when hiring for Amaze's HR and people lead departments. The company had decided to put most of its resources into products and engineering. So Aaron thought he could get away with hiring a junior person in other departments.

But his decision ended up costing distress in the company as all departments were unhappy as they could not get the resources they needed to function correctly. There was a lack of coordination and proper resource allocation. Aaron had to jump in and revamp the team quickly.

Another mistake on the customer-facing side was when Amaze started seeing massive interest in what they were building. Instead of going deep into the needs of a few companies who were excited about what Amaze was making. They decided to have a broader range of companies to show the investors that Amaze was getting a lot of interest.

Today, Aaron and his team ensure they reach out to a limited number of companies who will see real value in working with them.

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Learning #6 - A bad hire can take your company back by three months. So make sure you don't hire recklessly.

It is okay to delay hiring positions if there are budget constraints. But always hire A players in your team who are passionate about what you do.

How does Aaron hire A players for his company?

The leadership team has fired 36 people from Amaze in the last five months.

Aaron took his time to hire A players to form a small leadership team. He made sure he hired candidates who commanded respect from all the other people in their particular fields, and their work was inspiring.

Then he and his team of leaders spent one month crafting a hiring strategy and vision for the company.

Every candidate who appeared for interviews was then introduced to the company's vision.

This helped Amaze's team to sort out A players from the crowd.

Referrals also played an essential role in bringing good talent to the team. The happy employees vouched for the vision and mission of Amaze and influenced their friends to interview at Amaze.

Apart from checking the qualifications and background of the person, Aaron looks at two other things before making a hiring decision.

  • The first thing is respect. Does the candidate respect the industry and his peers?
  • The second thing is inspiration. Do the people working at Amaze draw inspiration from you? Do they look forward to working with you?

After the final interview, Aaron gives each candidate 24 hours to decide. If the candidates don't call within 24 hours, he doesn't hire them. This approach is based on the belief that anyone passionate enough to work with Amaze will not take more than 24 hours to make up his mind.

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Learning #7 - You can acquire skills, but respect and passion are earned. Always look for respected people in their fields of work who care about what your company does.

Such people will always go the extra mile to make things work in your favour.

The Bottom Line

Strategic planning trumps rapid action when scaling companies at a large scale. It is okay to take time to strategize and plan.

Aaron has always stuck to a strategic approach to scaling and hiring. This approach has reaped tremendous results for him and the companies he has led.

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