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The Power of an Audience Persona: How This Founder Breaks Product Engineers Out of Their Silos

Marketers often create audience or buyer personas to help them win new business. When you understand your ideal customer, you know how to sell to them – what emotional levers to pull. But it goes beyond just marketing. Harish Kumar, the founder and CEO of CrawlQ, believes an audience persona can unite sales, marketing, and product engineering behind a common goal. 

According to the founder, interdepartmental silos are often the root cause of a company’s failure. But if employees understand how they contribute to the success or happiness of a buyer persona, those silo walls begin to crumble. That’s why he built an audience research platform that uses AI to both identify a buyer persona and create content for that target audience. 

CrawlQ helps over 4,700 customers find the right audience and build brand authority in any niche through high-quality content. The startup has a remote team of only four but is on track to hit half a million dollars in revenue since its launch in March 2021.

Don’t Let Team Silos Stand in Your Way

Harish Kumar is a product design engineer with over 18 years of experience. He’s worked for big firms like Ernst & Young, Rabobank, and ING bank. Over the years, Harish observed an almost ubiquitous lack of communication between product engineers and other company departments.

Harish Kumar, the founder and CEO of CrawlQ, presenting at an event

Harish says, “Within every organization, big or small, I saw silos between the marketing, sales, and engineering teams. Product engineers are not empowered to make sales and marketing decisions, often working in a bubble on the product. And then they are held accountable for things that are out of their control. These silos are so ingrained that they’re hard to break.”

When startups don’t achieve product-market fit, product gets the blame, even though the fault could lie with marketing or sales or how well everyone is aligned. It’s almost impossible to satisfy customers’ wants when different departments and team members don’t have a unified understanding of who they are. 

Harish says, “Being a product design engineer, I always looked at financial performance to assess how well I did. It’s important to evaluate how you can do better in retrospect, but there are limitations. You can’t control everything outside of your job role and skill set, especially if people aren’t on the same page.” But if each employee starts with a common goal, no matter the job position or department, everyone speaks the same language. 

Company goals usually coalesce around an audience persona. You build a product or service for a specific audience that you then distill into a fictional representation of a single person, your ideal customer. While this persona is fictional, it reflects your target audience: their trends, behaviors, and patterns. You can then create a business strategy that speaks directly to their goals, challenges, and pain points.  

Your audience persona is the same for marketing, sales, and engineering, so everybody is drawing from the same well. Harish says, “Each department needs to have deep knowledge of the target audience to break through silos and provide the best possible customer experience. Regardless of your position, you need to understand whom you’re targeting, whether that’s for a new feature, a marketing campaign, or a sales deck. I want each department to be able to work together in a standardized way.”

Using AI for Audience Research and Content Creation 

Instead of surveying people, CrawlQ’s artificial intelligence engine, Athena, collects audience data from Google, Reddit, Quora, specific URLs, company documents, and so on. It learns from different data sources and combines all these insights into a persona with the unique characteristics of your target audience.

A customer has three options when they come to CrawlQ for audience research. One, you can request CrawlQ to do the audience research with Athena’s help. For top-funnel research, this takes only eight minutes. Second, CrawlQ offers pre-done research, available for more than 200 niches. Finally, you can order custom, manual research where Harish or one of the certified consultants from the CrawlQ community research your audience and deliver results within two days.

After CrawlQ researches a company’s target audience, it creates a persona from all that data. Harish says, “Once you’ve nailed down the persona, you can start collecting additional data to amplify this customer profile. This will allow you to talk to a statistically significant number of people – and that’s how your niche is born.” 

CrawlQ helps you hit that sweet spot between narrowing down your target audience yet still finding a niche big enough to generate revenue. Its insights can validate your business model, inspire new product ideas, or help you break into a new market. In other words, you gain a new understanding of your current or potential audience.

In the beginning, CrawlQ focused mainly on the research step of the process. But the founder soon realized that companies didn’t know what to do with the new data. “We created a semantics search engine where we plug in all the research and instruct our AI engine to create content,” Harish says.

In other words, when the research phase is complete, CrawlQ’s AI helps you create a content strategy around your audience. Topics cluster around different mediums, including social media posts, tweets, case studies, pitches, and sales emails. 

Do It Yourself Before Automating

In 2019, before developing CrawlQ, Harish started building a framework that would bring together engineering, sales, and marketing with the help of audience research. He documented everything that would help solve the silo problem, creating spreadsheets, checklists, and standard operating processes – and offered it to companies as a service. That was essentially the MVP of CrawlQ.

Then Harish acquired his first five clients on whom he could apply and test his ideas and methods. He decided not to productize his solution until later, when he had proven that it worked as a manual service. With the feedback he received from those clients, Harish started building the software to automate the process. It took him a year to create the first version and recruit another ten clients to test it again.

Later, Harish discovered that companies also needed help responding to CrawlQ’s findings. So, he extended CrawlQ’s AI functionality to automate content creation using semantics and psychographics of the target audience. 

In March 2021, CrawlQ was officially launched on AppSumo (a website where entrepreneurs can purchase digital goods and services) as an AI-powered audience research tool and content automation platform.

Harish says, “I took the risk of launching it on AppSumo first because they are a big marketing machine and you can easily get hundreds of users. However, the challenge there is that customers come from all different directions, so it’s hard to reach your target market. Also, these entrepreneurs often use twenty different tools already because they invest in lifetime deals. They are a really challenging audience and not the same type of customers as the ones paying monthly for a platform.”

However, as early adopters of technology, they are well-informed about current trends. They were interested in helping tech startups succeed and forgave small software issues. Harish was thankful for their feedback as it helped him build a better product.

CrawlQ secured 2,500 customers within three months of launching. Harish says, “Ninety percent of these customers were one-time purchasers who bought CrawlQ as a lifetime deal. Of that ninety percent, twenty percent of customers became active users who provided us with valuable feedback to help us iterate on the product again.”

Then in August of 2021, the founder relaunched CrawlQ on AppSumo with additional features. This helped the company obtain another 2,000 customers. By the end of 2021, they’d acquired 4,500 customers. In May of this year, Harish launched the platform on ProductHunt. It was a competitive day, but CrawlQ still ended in the fifth position.

Since then, Harish has focused on growing monthly recurring revenues and creating more opportunities for one-time purchases. Now, customers can pay a one-off fee or subscribe monthly for research or content, which has generated around $10,000 in monthly revenue on average for the past eight months. 

Embrace Part-Time Employees Who Work on Personal Projects 

When CrawlQ served just five clients, it consisted of two people. Harish expanded the team as revenue increased. He says, “When building the team, I encouraged everyone to take a side job at a bigger company that’s more established than CrawlQ. Currently, all of our employees have a side hustle – or CrawlQ is their side hustle.

“They work part-time with me and part-time with another company. This way, they don’t have to worry about not making enough money and they’re extra motivated to do well at CrawlQ. They know they are the power behind our platform and their work directly impacts the startup’s growth. Hiring part-time also allows us to secure experienced employees within a tight budget. Currently, I’m the only full-time employee.”  

At its height, the company grew to ten people, helping CrawlQ iterate on customer feedback faster. Then the cost of the product and employee salaries rose too fast, so Harish downsized the team to four people. 

“I didn’t fire those people or let them go. When they started, we agreed that this would be the situation and that I would help them get a new job once they were finished at CrawlQ. After building the business foundation, we didn’t need as big of a team to maintain it. Our former employees have an open invitation to come back to CrawlQ when we have grown to the next level,” Harish says. 

The founder wants other entrepreneurs to know that being able to shrink or expand your team when needed is a good thing. This is how CrawlQ has remained sustainable. And hiring a lot of employees isn’t necessary for success – a small team can get a lot done. Harish’s goal is to bootstrap CrawlQ to 100k in monthly revenue in the coming year, helping even more companies break through silos, find their ideal target audience, and create compelling content.

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Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew Gazdecki
Andrew is an award-winning serial entrepreneur with three exits. He’s the founder and CEO of MicroAcquire, the world’s most founder-friendly startup marketplace, and its rebellious child, Bootstrappers, which gives voice to the entrepreneurial underdog. When not building businesses, he writes for Forbes, Entrepreneur, and now, Bootstrappers.

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