Dogu is the Trondheim-based technology company behind SalesScreen, which helps sales-based organisations visualise data and boost motivation. They are also behind LiveScreen, a complete infoscreen solution for retail, internal company use or events.
This is their story of impressive growth thanks to a focus on sales and a clear strategic plan.
Back in 2011, NTNU student Sindre Haaland felt a burning desire to found a company.
"I just thought, why wait? Why can’t I start a company while still studying? I had no real plan beyond finding quick revenues and using that revenue to fund a SaaS (software as a service) business. I was intrigued by the recurring revenue business model but I knew it was going to be hard and that I would need money, so decided to use the remaining few years at university to build up revenue in the company, by selling websites and apps. I was surrounded by great people at NTNU who hadn’t yet been taken by consultancies and development agencies, so they worked for me."
After billing a few million kroner while studying, Haaland went all-in on the company after graduating.
"Our sole focus was on building revenue. I didn’t pay myself and very early on we partnered up with a sales company, because we knew we needed to sell. It was a great way to grow at this stage as it got a lot of people talking about the company."
The search for a SaaS model continued and their first attempt - a push notification replacement for text messaging for groups - came out of a prolonged weekend coding marathon. After looking around for potential customers, they came across a call centre that sent out an SMS for every sale they made, to recognise the salesperson. Despite a successful trial and positive feedback, something wasn’t right. So they sat down with the CEO to brainstorm, as Haaland explains:
“We got really valuable feedback. He wanted the product but he was more interested in its potential as a sales reporting tool, and the combination of a message on the phone and sales on a screen. It was the beginning of our flagship product and looking back was the defining moment for our company."
However, even a relatively small pivot meant scrapping the code and starting again. After releasing the product just 15 months ago, Sales Screen now has 4,000 sellers across 150 companies including several outside Norway.
“The success was because of our market-oriented product development. We went to the market with our ears to the ground and listened carefully to the first customers, so we knew exactly what to build."
So with the desired SaaS business model now in place, Haaland faced the difficult decision of what to do with the high revenue but high maintenance consulting arm of the company.
"The consultancy was a way to balance out the finance of paying full-time developers focused on the products. We needed the consultancy income as it takes time to build up revenue on a SaaS model. All developers want to work on products, but they had no problems doing the groundwork such as the websites and apps that funded the product development. At the time the market was good so it was easy to get new consulting projects when we needed them.
"Following the reduction in the oil price last year the IT market dried up. We didn’t get any new customers and even some of the existing customers who spent over a million last year haven’t ordered this year. This forced us to accelerate the plan, but luckily we had a finished product (SalesScreen) with a lot of traction. It was touch and go for a while, but we are now at positive cash flow again."
Haaland pinpoints people as the number one success factor.
"It was our people that made the difference. They accepted lower wages based on the assumption that we would succeed as a team. We were always clear that we wanted to increase salary as fast as we could and that’s what we’ve done, gradually raising the wages until this year when we’re competitive."
"We also have some great resources advising us. Early on we realised having a professional board was really useful because of our ages. We have the former HR director from Gjensidige and the CTO of Telenor Global. Their guidance is invaluable."
Finally, Haaland has some advice for budding entrepreneurs.
"It's critical to focus on sales from the very beginning. Even though we wanted to make a product, we sold consultancy hours just to start selling. Without sales you don’t have revenue, you don’t have cash flow and you will not survive. Investors will ask you to prove yourself before sending any money your way, so focus on sales before looking for investment. You will see what people actually want and most importantly, what they are willing to pay for."