Episode 33: Todd Busler, Operator in Residence, Unusual Ventures

Todd talks about the sales process at Heap, Unusual's method of building a company, investing in next-gen founders, importance of sabbaticals, and more!

This week on The CoSell Show we have with us Todd Busler, Operator in Residence at Unusual Ventures. Todd helps early-stage founders find their ideal customers, increase traction, and build great sales teams.


Topics discussed:

    • Todd's early days at Heap, how the market has evolved, and what their sales process looks like.
    • The dramatic growth of Unusual Ventures, how they invest in next-gen founders & at what stage, and their number one metric; founder satisfaction & success.
    • Unusual's method of building a company and the metrics they use to track their progress.
    • Difficulties faced by founders and the typical mistakes they make in the early stages.


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Follow along with the podcast transcript 


Pete Ryan: Hi everyone. Thanks for tuning into the CoSell show. I have a good friend of mine, Todd Busler. How are you doing Todd?

Todd Busler: Doing well, Pete. Good to catch up with you.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. Likewise. So I'm trying to look back and think about how long I've known you for, it's a, I think it was just before you were about to join Heap that we were connected.

Todd Busler: Yeah. You had GoGoHire getting going, which I didn't know what it was, and you reached out to me saying the job market's hot, you used to look around and then eventually you connected me to the Heap founders. So I'm kind of forever indebted to you. And I think that was at the end of 2014.

Pete Ryan: Yeah, I think you were like one of the first hires that we made through GoGoHire, right. So you had signed up and it worked so, and it seemed like, I’m trying to remember where Heap was at, maybe they had just raised their seed round.

Todd Busler: Yeah, they just raised a seed round. There were like four employees, no one on the business side, and it was definitely a risk, but I learned a ton. And like I said, I have a lot to thank you for pushing me in that direction.

Pete Ryan: Thank you. You made GoGoHire kind of, get off the ground so to speak when they were in their super early days. So thanks again for joining. I guess just for the folks that don't know you, would you mind just providing a quick background on yourself and what's led you to Unusual Ventures where you're operating partner.

Todd Busler: Yup. So I’m from the east coast, went to school in Philadelphia, but when I came out of graduated from Penn, a lot of people go on the finance consulting route. I didn't love Excel at the time or wasn't super interested in finance. I had a friend that I played football with who was an engineer at SAP and told me about a sales training academy. They had, I didn't know what SAP was or the software world. Really. I met a woman at a career fair. who convinced me to go join. And the more I learned about it, the more I realized I was interested in tech and software. After a couple of years at SAP, I started getting more drawn to start-ups and kind of new wave, you know, what were the hot companies to join? And I had some experience in SMBs growing up, so I took the chance on joining Square, thinking, you know, going from 60,000 employees at SAP to like 800 employees at the time at Square, I thought that was like the start-up, right. Realizing now my journey has been smaller and smaller, but after some time at Square very early on in terms of how sales reps they brought on. I think I watched that go from like six or eight of us to like 60 in a year. So I got exposed to a ton of sales, operations training, hiring enablement, territory building really a bunch of go to market, things that I just was never exposed to. And I really liked that. And then we, we caught up and basically had the opportunity. I realized that I would like, I wanted to get to an opportunity, a smaller company, like even smaller than Square at the time. And then. Also, have a chance to close bigger deals because Square was very SMB at that moment. And I knew that was going to take a while. So joined Heap in 2015, I spent six years there, you know, they were like a couple hundred thousand dollars in ARR. I left north of like 40 million in ARR, I ended up close to 300 employees running the whole sales org. So a hell of a run there really got exposed to SAS. Learned a lot from a lot of smart people, made a ton of mistakes along the way. And now I've made the jump over to Unusual Ventures, supporting early-stage founders. So I think the way I think about it is trying to learn from some of the mistakes that we made at Heap. So they're not making them. And really, I think about my job and I would Unusual as Unusual invests in what we believe is the next great wave of highly technical founders and usually big complicated technical markets and then partnered with people like myself to help them with sales. Some of my counterparts on talent and hiring marketing, et cetera. And I think my job now is really trying to accelerate outcomes for these founders, right? How can we get them to their first customer faster, get them to product-market fit faster, get them to a better sales leader faster? And that sounds like spending my days now.

Pete Ryan: Awesome. Awesome. And so yeah, it's only been what, a couple of months now that you've joined

Todd Busler: Seven months.

Pete Ryan: Seven months, wow. Very cool. Yeah. I love the content Unusual puts out. Yeah, there are some really good playbooks there. Talk to me about Heap real quick. Like, there's kind of been this evolution to that whole market, right? What did you see in the early days at Heap, and then fast forward to today and how that market's developed. And also just before we jump into that, what does Heap do? Like who's the ICP. What does the sales process look like? That type of stuff

Todd Busler: Yep. Great question. So Heap is in the customer experience, product analytics category competes directly with folks like mixed panel or amplitude. A little bit toward Pendo as well. ICP is really selling in the beginning. It tended to be a little bit more engineers as the category matured. It really was Square on product folks. So the people that run product management organization. Sometimes it's people that run marketing organizations really who you're selling to is anyone that has an online experience. That's really important. So an e-commerce site, a B2B application, financial services, ed tech travel anywhere where a lot of money and time is invested on making that user experience better on the front. Heap is really good to help folks optimize that. Right. What features are being used? What's leading to retention and so on.

The question about, is it growing? And I think what we saw in the early days, and I'm sure this was similar for a lot of our competitors, is there was a lot of education on just, why do I need this thing? Like, why do I need product analytics? Like Google analytics is around. People have been looking at pages like, do I really need to pay for another thing? And if you look at it now over, you know, six, seven years later, I mean, collectively just amplitude MixPanel, Heap, Pendo is like, you know, north of $10 billion market cap combined, right? Like the category has grown a ton and these, this subset of tooling has become almost a necessity for any company that has people optimizing it, digital expense.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. And so and then we'll add, you know, when you were there, right? What did the sales motion look like? What was next between inbound, outbound?

Todd Busler: Yeah. In the early days, it was very heavy inbound. Like I think both founders were in the Stanford YC kind of tech community in those days, I think a lot easier to get exposure on things like hacker news would lead to a lot of sign-ups. And in that, in the first kind of six months, it was me and the second rep. Becca Linquest she's awesome. She's better than me. She's now run sales at DBT. She, we had her and I was really competing on taking some of these inbound interests, free trial, figuring out how to position pricing, pushing the limit on how much we think people would be able to pay here.

However that inbound, you know, it always kind of stayed steady-state, but not as at the rate we wanted to grow. So, we quickly moved to a pretty outbound, heavy motion if I could go back in time. And I think this would be the same for the Heap founders invests a lot heavier in marketing early on to keep that inbound alive a little bit longer. Like we went about it. Definitely. Brute force kind of BDRs, AEs doing outbound got people really good at knowing how to sell and type with the value prop, but, you know it's trickier that way. It's a little bit harder.

Pete Ryan: Yeah, every company has its ceiling right. When it comes to it, you know. You can only scale so far. And so, sorry, you were going to say something?

Todd Busler: Yeah. I think like now, even the organization still, it's like a very heavy prospect culture, very heavy pipe gen poultry. Now I've layered on a lot of the inbound and the PLG motion and good things are coming through.

Pete Ryan: Yep. Awesome. So you were in, you were in San Francisco, you moved to New York and now you're at Unusual, like yeah, maybe just a high-level overview on Unusual in a huge fan of what they're doing, but yeah.

Todd Busler: Yeah, I took, so I took it to a couple of months off after he really just wanted to get off the computer, do things outside of work.

I think that's really necessary. I kind of subscribe to mini-retirements or little sabbaticals and I'd encourage people that have the opportunity to do so. After that I got connected with John Varonis, so he started Unusual Ventures with Jyoti Bunzl. So basically John has been a VC at Lightspeed for, you know, 10 - 15 years, big, really good successful investments in companies like MuleSoft and App Dynamics. He met Joe, he is the founder of App Dynamics where they invested. Long story short, Joe D if founded and exited App Dynamics is harness and traceable as well right now. And then in 2017, Jody and John decided to form Unusual Ventures, basically with the thesis that. As these funds get other VCs to get larger and larger and invest across all stages that they're not really able to help founders where they need a lot of help at that early stage. Right? So the thesis is to invest in these next great founders and, put all the resources around them, really get in the weeds with them to make them successful in their early days where they need the most help.

And now they're have raised a couple of funds. Things are going well, the company has grown quite dramatically. And it's been awesome to see that vision come to life.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. And at what stage does Unusual normally invest?

Todd Busler: Yeah, good question. Mainly leading seed rounds, but we'll do pre-seed seed in a, but for the most part, it's very, very early stages.

Pete Ryan: Yep. Got it. Got it. Awesome. Yeah. And then, you know, like, I guess how involved is as it is Unusual in helping your portfolio companies.

Todd Busler: Extremely like, I think a lot of VCs say, Hey, we're involved in this, it really comes down to intros or some advice here to give you some context. My job I'm essentially the head of sales at one of our companies for a given quarter at a time.

Oh, I'll say so this could be very early helping them get 50 conversations to figure out who their ICP or buyer user personas are. This could be helping them land and convert their first handful of design partners. This could be getting them to a milestone of ARR working with a handful of reps that they may have before they're raising their subsequent rounds.

But, you know, I have an email address at the company, right. In a lot of meetings at the company. So I couldn't be more a part of the team, I think, as we scale, right. We'll continue to tweak that bottle in different offerings, but the number one metric is founder satisfaction and obviously their success. And it's, it's about as involved as you can. Yeah.

Pete Ryan: And Unusual is lucky to have you, you know, you're a talented guy, and so you hop in with your portfolio companies, just like for a quarter and then fix what's broken at that very moment.

Todd Busler: Yeah, I think I avoid problems more than fix them because it's so early. It's not like there are bad habits and you're doing like a turnaround thing. It's like, okay, how do I go about reaching out to my first 50 prospects? Right. Most of these people, aren't familiar with a lot of the sales tactics that you and I have grown up doing here in this business. Right? So a lot of things that I can teach them or you can teach them a lot of really good reps could teach them, you know, it's extremely valuable and it's just tricky to learn. Right? So a lot of time, this is just setting up good habits from the beginning, getting into how you do outreach, build a sales deck, how do you think about pricing how you build the interview process, all the basics that come with growing a SAS organization that a technical founder probably hasn't been exposed to.

Pete Ryan: For sure. It has to be such a fun job for you, right? You're popping in. You're probably learning a ton as you go too.

Todd Busler: It's been really fun because. If you had any one company for a long time, you're thinking about the same problem so much now. Sure. That evolves right. And ensures, and it tweaks, but like, you're still thinking about the same market, the same buyers at the same constant number. And this is really different because one day I'm figuring out development, collaboration tool. The next day, I'm looking at some next stage testing thing and there's something in the commerce world starting to dip into the web three stuff. So like I have to learn a lot, very quickly to be able to provide value. And then a lot of its education. Like, Hey, I understand why you think this is a good idea. Here's what I've run into in some of our other companies have to try XYZ and, you know, ultimately I worked for the founder, right? So like giving advice, but every situation so far has been really good relationships where they're happy to be getting advice. And I'm happy to be able to hear their opinion and first principles as well.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. Are you coming in like, pre-product market fit post-product market fit?

Todd Busler: Usually pre, but it's been both like usually pre so a lot of times this is like a smart handful of folks that have a good experience, an idea, and a deck and that's it. Right. You know, again, the latest stage, most of the time, these are leading seed round sometimes. So the latest stage is like, you know, we have to get to X dollars in revenue and hire ahead of sales, right, but still like, it's still pretty early.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. So it feels like, if you joined to kind of just did the traditional like sales model, right, you guys would just be like selling so far ahead of the product, right, with the portfolio companies that are going to, so I'm sure your experience that he kind of led to, you know, a mix of sales and a mix of customer discovery to help the company, like get to product-market fit.

Todd Busler: That's exactly right. Like. We talked a lot about the founders is like, what's the Unusual method of going about building a company, right. And John and Jody have really good content. I'd encourage people on Unusual field guide to read some of that around how you go about setting up a design partner, what you want from a design partner. What does design partner mean? Right. Which is someone helping you collaborate on your product. So you have a really good version when you release it to the general public.

How do you charge them? How do you go about that? Right. There's a method that John and Jody have done because they've seen this so many times. Right. And I'm kind of implementing that with my tweaks on it. But yeah, it's extremely valuable. And I think the way I think about the role I'm doing is like, yeah, sure it's sales, but like I've heard someone describe it as you're, you're like the PM for revenue. Right. Which I think is a really interesting way. Like my job is successful. If we can nail down the ICP, figure out how to target and attract customers, know how to convert them, and then easily train other people to do that. Right. So there's a lot that goes into that. Like a superhuman seller isn't really the best fit in something like this.

Pete Ryan: Right. Yeah. It feels like in the quest for getting to product-market fit, there's kind of this convergence between that and go to market fit, especially with like the emergence of a PLG right. Because yeah, they they're I'm just seeing that happen. Right. It's like, you know and even if you have PLG, right, you still have. And in most cases need to have some sort of like top-down sales. Right. And so, yeah, it'll be interesting to see kind of what that looks like for the next like 5 or 10 years.

But yeah, our I guess like, you know, with you having come from Heap, you're obviously, you know, very data-driven just having worked there for a long time like, what are some of the, like, metrics that you track, whether it be like product metrics to inform, you know, how you're going to market. Or you know, sales metrics et cetera. What does that look like for your portfolio companies?

Todd Busler: For sure. And I think I'll just hit on one thing you said before, I agree that you know, it used to be, get to a million dollars in revenue. You raised a good series, a right. And like that. You know, I think we've seen a lot of that has shifted up or earlier. Right. And I think it's not just about being able to attract people top-down or in most cases, not just to be able to drive adoption at some combination of both. Right. So I think you're spot on with that. So a lot of what I'm doing is from a metric standpoint. And you know, we do a good job of tracking a lot of this, but you know, how hard is it to get in touch with people we think are good ICP. This is simple. Like, how am I, how am I getting meetings? Post positive response rates? How much of that? Can we convert to a demo, et cetera, like as you'd imagine how many of those demos can be actually converted into a design partner, how many become customers?

I think that's the, you know, more of the straightforward ones. I think some other things that are really important are some type of adoption that is showing that not only can you sell this product, but it gets adopted and regularly, whatever that regular is, some products daily, some weekly, whatever. And also a lot of the companies we invest in are. So a lot of this, how, like how active on GitHub, how many communities, how many followers they have in their community? What's that slack channel look like? How active is it? Right. It's usually some form of top-down customer acquisition or conversion from like free to some paid thing and then some form of adoption. But we're very explicit on what that should be and there's usually some OKR associated with it.

Pete Ryan: Yeah. Awesome. I'm jealous of your job, man. I love being a founder, but that's cool that you can kind of hop in and help in that way. And so, yeah, I guess, you know, what are you seeing among your portfolio companies and just, you know, by and large, like the most typical mistakes founders make in the early days?

Todd Busler: It's a really good question. I think the hardest thing about being a founder and you probably know this better than anyone you've done this a few times now. It's just you have to be brutally honest with yourself, right. And then that comes across in a variety of different ways. Like I've been on calls with founders maybe a first-time founder where they said, wow, that person was interested. And a lot of my job is to say, if you think that's really interested, you haven't seen interested yet. Right. Because. Like you have to be honest about what, what is, Hey, someone's interested, what is demand? And then that transfers into everything. Like, do we need to make a big product decision? What is the conversation we need to have at our board meeting? Right. Like, I think it's real. I think the best founders are. Very brutally honest with themselves and kind of thinking about ways they might even be biasing their own decisions upfront. Right. And I think that's important because it's very easy, much like a seller to get happier.

It's very easy for a founder to say, no people love this product. No, if I build it, I'm sure they're going to do it. And you can just set yourself really far back. I don't see it a ton, but I just think that's an important thing to continuously think about.

Pete Ryan: As a kind of seller founder, that's something I've had to learn. Right. And kind of learn the hard way because yes, sometimes you think, okay, like if we only, if we do this, then things will get better or change. Right. Or, you know, You're speaking with a customer and they tell you, you know, something or a prospect even, right. And then they tell you something that, you know, it'd be great if we did build this in the product or it'd be awesome if, you know you know, you guys offer offered X, Y, Z, and it's yeah, it's easy to get, like to fall into that trap. So I think that the common denominator is like sticking to your vision and your mission as a company. And then also being like really data-driven right. To understand, okay. Like if, you know, when, when we onboard. This company, right. Like successes and just qualitative. It's very much so like, you know, adoption within the product and engagement.

And so that's, it's awesome that you can bring that kind of Heap experience into your day-to-day at Unusual.

Todd Busler: Yeah, it's been a very good experience for the job I'm doing. Like the first couple of years on paper. I think one other thing I'd add there, just in terms of some of the mistakes I see are some things to think about is we also invest in a lot of founders that have extremely deep product experience, know the problem inside now, and have worked in a space for 20, 30 years. And I think. It's easy for them to say, Hey, I understand the problem. I know what they want. Right. And I think if I could just make her, my vendor, it's constantly talked to those customers and constantly challenge that your product isn't going to do everything. To understand the adjacent parts of a workflow or the day-to-day that it touches. So, you know, how does it change their day-to-day? If, what do they need to turn off to be able to integrate your solution? Right? Like you can't just build amazing tech and expect that to all be fixed. You have to learn about it. You have to focus on it. So that's another kind of mistake. Awesome.

Pete Ryan: Great. Well Todd, I know we're coming up on time. I really appreciate you joining today and if anyone wants to like reach out to you if they have any questions to try it, I'm sure you'd be open to like, what's the best way for them to do that.

Todd Busler: Yeah. I'm just on LinkedIn as Todd Busler. I don't think anyone else has my name.

I'm happy to chat with early-stage founders in terms of, advice, I like to think a lot of this stuff really isn't that hard. It's not rocket science, but it's really hard to learn unless you've seen it a couple of times. So I'm always happy to be an ear to talk about, or say, Hey, am I thinking about this right? I'm happy to give you that advice. And, you know, Unusual is always looking for great founders.

Pete Ryan: Awesome. Well, thanks again, Todd. Appreciate it, and have a great rest of your day.

Todd Busler: I appreciate it, Pete.



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