Caroline Clark: Power of discipline and growing up deaf
How Caroline grew Arcade to 750 customers
I’m excited to relaunch Deep in the trenches. On top of some occasional posts with original thoughts from myself, I’ll share every week an interview with an early stage startup founder I admire.
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Caroline is the founder of Arcade. Arcade is a fast growing startup, and at Actiondesk we’ve been happy users for close to a year.
Questions are from me, quotes are answers from Caroline, emphasis mine and the text below the quotes are additional comments from me.
What is Arcade?
We help build interactive demos that you can then embed inside homepages, blog posts, and social media.
Could you give an indication of your stage?
We are Seed stage and now have over 750 companies using our tool.
How did you make your way to the world of startups?
I've always been around tech in some form. I used to work in tech marketing at Atlassian and then migrated to VC.
Caroline is modest here and doesn’t mention that “migrated to VC” means working at Lightspeed and Sequoia, two of the best firms out there.
Can you describe how your customers get value out of your product?
We deliver value in a few ways:
As a founder, you can validate what prospects want through showing them new, not yet released features.
As a marketer, you can increase conversion and get analytics about how customers engage with your functionality.
As a marketer, you can market new features inside change-logs and social media.
I can testify here to the power of Arcade. If you check out Actiondesk’s homepage and scroll down, you’ll see a demo of Actiondesk. That’s built with Arcade.
How do you define product market fit and do you have it?
This is a very subjective heuristic, and one that we're still figuring out. Right now we have over 40% people discovering Arcade through word of mouth (colleagues, and friends), which is a strong signal. Qualitatively, we get a lot of positive feedback on the product and people are sharing it with their friends. We definitely have crossed the hurdle of "building something that people want" (to quote the YC saying) but we have a lot to work on in regards to monetization, scaling, and GTM.
How did you get your first 10 users / customers?
I begged friends at companies to start using it. I cold emailed so many people (~300). I knew someone at Carta and she was very gracious about using the tool. Actiondesk was actually in our first 10! Someone had flagged me you all because you were using a Figma prototype at the time. I think the biggest learning for me with the first ten is to focus on customers for whom this is not a drastic behavior change — the companies that already had demo videos ended up being power users and really easy to convert because they already had the need.
This is good heuristic. If people hack their way around the problem you’re trying to solve, they’ll be great fits to be early users. This was our case here, we hacked around a figma prototype to display our product on our homepage but were missing many things (analytics for example to understand how many people viewed the prototype, signed up, etc)
Also only 300 cold emails to get first 10 customers is very good. That’s >3% conversion rate. In my experience and other founders I know, it’s usually much less than that. Such a rate is a good indication of the “market” part of Product Market Fit.
I’ll add that cold emailing can be a great, fast and easy way to test an idea. Email 500 people you think should be customers of your idea. How many are willing to get on a call to learn more? If >1%, you’re onto something.
I will never forget a tipping point where Zoom calls were easy because they wanted to use my product as opposed to me trying to convince them. I experienced the really tough calls where I could tell that the customers just took the call because they felt bad for me.
What led to the tipping point? Was it the product that got better or was different, did you communicate the value in a better way, something else?
I think it was because we had a real MVP, and users were discovering the product and came into the call with some ideas about already needing Arcade. Before, we were convincing people that they needed it.
I think this is pretty interesting. I had calls like this and still do sometimes. They very rarely lead to anything good. If the user doesn’t have the problem you’re trying to solve, then no need to force down your product down their throat.
The subtlety though is that sometimes they don’t realize they have the problem and you can help them realize it.
And how about your first 100 users?
We focus a lot on content marketing. I used to come from a marketing background so this is quite intuitive to me — I'm always thinking about the next thing to showcase. The key here is to think about great value add content. What are some things that are valuable to your customer base? I also am quite biased that you have to lead through product with content too — it's also easy to go off the other edge and become a content marketing shop as opposed to a product focused culture. On a tangible level, this means we showcase great use cases of Arcade, write up customer stories, share hot tips about how to use Arcade, and talk about new features.
Is there one specific tactic that was very helpful to you, whether it's in finding users, building your product or fundraising that you'd like to share?
Connecting with other founders has been a gamechanger. They are the best source of advice, fundraising intros, and shoulders to cry on :) I'm in a small founder group that meets monthly and they're awesome.
100%. That’s one of the main values of accelerators. It makes it easy to have this group of fellow founders at a similar stage.
What's one thing you wish you had known when you started your company?
There's no real endgame. I always thought "oh, once we get 100 customers we are set" or "once we close this great hire." You have to love the process of building.
Yep, there’s always that next “once we have X, we’ll be good and I’ll take 4 weeks of holidays”. Pro tip: it doesn’t happen
What's a tool that makes you save time every week or every day?
Aside from Arcade….I do love Slack. We use it for asynch comms and Slack connect is awesome for chatting with customers.
What's a favorite book and why?
I love the Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's more philosophical but I think Kundera is a great writer.
Funny story, one of the scenes of the movie was filmed in my <10,000 inhabitants hometown in France (Luxeuil-les-bains for those who are curious)
What's a favorite podcast episode you'd recommend me to listen to?
I'm not a big podcast gal, but I do like NPR's How I Built This on road trips.
If you were not working on Arcade, what product would you build? Or what's a product you wish existed?
I would love a personal health app that helps me keep track of my recurring habits that I should be doing. For example, reminders to book that GP appointment, call that close friend, etc. I don't know if it's really a business, but I would use it!
You grew up deaf and you share your experience on this youtube video, are there lessons you'd like to share here about this? I'd be curious to hear about the challenges that you've had to overcome and also whether in some ways it gave you some kind of edge?
I think a big lesson that I learned growing up deaf and hearing with cochlear implants (as well as being an athlete) is that I learned the power of discipline. It's amazing what you can do if you just dedicate one hour a day to it. As a founder, it's about the daily moments — what would be possible if you just spent a hour a day finding that incredible designer, designing that killer feature, or focusing on the most important thing? The challenge is finding that time, and being disciplined enough to actually do it every day.
Kobe Bryant (and I) would agree. Highly recommend checkout Caroline’s video where she shares more about this.
On a light note, what's a movie / tv show / documentary you watched recently you'd recommend people to watch?
I love Curb Your Enthusiasm. I don't know if I would really like Larry David in real life (he would be a horrendous neighbor), but I think he's hilarious on screen. I love the whole premise of the show — people take themselves way too seriously often, and Larry exposes how ridiculous people can get.
Is there a good question I should have asked you that I didn't? If yes, what is it and what's the answer :) ?
Maybe "What's the hardest thing about being a founder" and for me it's this consistent lingering feeling of responsibility. In some ways I feel like there's incredible freedom to innovate — it's incredible — but it's hard for me to truly turn off or relax when I know that there's 750 companies using Arcade in the background. I know it's only going to get worse in some ways, and hopefully alleviated with adding more resources. But the weight of responsibility is hard to ignore, and not something I expected. Investing in mental wellness is critical.
Lastly, where can people find you if they want to follow the rest of your adventures?
Follow me at carolinedclark on Twitter!
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