In conversation with… Harneet Singh
Harneet and I met a few years ago at a Communitech Peer-to-Peer session and I’ve kind’ve watched from afar as Aterlo sunset their first product (NightShift) and have now attained new heights thanks to excellent product-market fit and effective marketing of Preseem.
I know that a lot of marketers at startups and scale-ups find can relate to Harneet’s position now (leading a small team) and a few years ago (a one-person team), so I thought it would be helpful for the community to pick his brain and feast on the goo inside.
Fun note: Harneet was recently selected by the City of Kitchener council to be a member of the Economic Development Advisory Committee for the next two years. As a representative of the tech sector, his role will be to help build and expand the city’s “Make it Kitchener 2.0” strategy.
First, let me start by congratulating you and the growing team on a well-executed pivot that’s led to newfound success!
Thank you, Lee! It has been a challenging yet extremely rewarding journey over the past four years or so. I still recall our 2016 Christmas season where our NightShift product was staring into the sunset and Preseem was just a whiteboard idea.
It’s humbling to see how far the product, the company and the team have come in a short amount of time.
You’re the Director of Marketing—in a nutshell, what functions and responsibilities come with that title?
I like to group the core responsibilities into two categories: one is more strategic and involves long-term objectives while the other is more tactical and concerns day to day marketing wins.
When we started and marketing was just a one-person operation, I was doing a bit of everything and anything to get new customers and to build our brand. Over time, the role has become more nuanced.
On the strategic side, my goals are marketing roadmap planning, giving a strategic view on the company’s long term plans and vision (1-5 years), brand development and ensuring our front-runner status in the vendor ecosystem.
On the tactical front, overseeing our B2B lead generation strategy using paid advertising and organic channels, content marketing and social media management are the key responsibilities.
I’m now supported by a small but effective marketing and business development team that has taken a lot off my plate, allowing me the opportunity to invest time in big ideas, partnership ideas and strategic planning.
Aterlo is the company, but Preseem is the product and seems to exist as its own brand used in your communications. What’s behind this approach—and does managing these two brands introduce any challenges?
Aterlo, for most practical purposes, is just the legal entity—the company which was formed by the co-founders back in 2014.
Two interesting tidbits on the names:
- “Aterlo” was coined from “Waterloo” (the home city) by dropping the first and last letters! The idea was to have an umbrella company and have products/brands under that. Our first product/brand was NightShift and then came Preseem.
- “Preseem” was chosen for a few reasons: one of the co-founders had the .com domain; it had no real-world meaning to get confused with; and we felt that it can be spelled after hearing it over the phone easily!
For all marketing/strategy purposes within our current target market—WISPs—we go with Preseem. That’s how our customers know us and that’s what we wanted.
It isn’t very hard from a marketing perspective since we don’t ‘spend’ any time or resources on the “Aterlo” brand. Our brand focus is Preseem driven. Right from our business cards to tradeshow promotional materials, it’s Preseem all the way.
Ha! Tech names nowadays are getting out of hand, so I guess the best strategy is to go back in time and register a bunch of domains =)
Your solution is purpose-built for WISPs, so that means you have a relatively longer list of relatively (much) smaller customers than companies that are trying to sell to the Verizons, AT&Ts, Bells, and Rogers of the world.
Yeah, our target market currently is primarily fixed-wireless operators, commonly called WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers). There are anywhere between 2,000 to 2,500 such operators in the US according to WISPA, a leading industry association. These serve over 5 million customers in the US.
In Canada, we estimate around 200 to 250 such operators connecting over 400,000 Canadians.
WISPs are an integral part of bridging the digital divide and their inspiring stories don’t always make the cut when it comes to mainstream attention on ISPs.
I’m sure that this market comes with some pros (overlooked by large vendors, probably can’t afford those bigger solutions anyway, likely a tight reference-driven community) and cons (you need to reach more prospects, there’s relatively higher overhead per sale, and so on).
Can you shine some light on what you’ve learned and how you put those lessons into practice?
One of the unique things we found in this market is that WISPs are a tight-knit community of entrepreneurs and geeks.
Unlike most B2B plays, a WISP customer of yours is happy to endorse your product/solution to other WISP friends because it’s not very common for one WISP to compete with the other given their geographical focus on serving rural/remote parts of the country.
That’s not to say that there’s no friendly competition amongst them, but this group/community-minded approach to business was very unique and helpful to us.
Once we had our initial deployments, word spread out pretty quickly and we had a lot of inbound interest coming from forums and social media groups like on Facebook where the WISP owners congregated. So you can say that our inorganic marketing efforts led to a dramatic increase in organic traffic once we had some deployments and very happy customers.
Our inorganic marketing efforts led to a dramatic increase in organic traffic once we had some deployments and very happy customers
Today on such forums, there are almost daily discussions about the problems we solve as well as our product—and this is a win most marketers can only dream of!
On the other hand, we have to be very careful of the culture, product, and brand we build. Since our customers freely talk, bad experiences or issues get around quickly as well. We’ve been very fortunate so far when it comes to this but that is a conscious effort on our part.
Just keep doing great things for them, and you’ll be fine!
For a while now, Preseem has produced periodic reports that examine real-world data from your customer base. Can you tell us a bit about the objective of those reports, why you went with this approach, and how you produce them?
A core objective of our marketing strategy has been to help our WISP customers to build and grow their business—as our success is directly linked to theirs.
To that end, customer education, awareness and fostering the community spirit are key pillars of our content marketing strategy.
Customer education, awareness and fostering the community spirit are key pillars of our content marketing strategy.
Given our cloud-based architecture and nature of the product (measuring, analyzing and improving customer experience), we’re in a unique position to ingest a lot of data across hundreds of ISPs. In fact, Preseem ingests over 8 billion metrics per day from WISPs across the US and with a smaller number from Canada and international markets.
We decided to leverage this huge dataset to provide a view of the fixed wireless industry across service providers and vendors. This led to a report we call “Preseem Fixed Wireless Network Report.”
Our two key objectives were to help WISPs understand the market a bit better, by comparing their metrics with those of their peers, and to allow ‘outsiders’ to gain a better understanding of the fixed wireless industry. In this report, we share data on typical subscriber behaviour like bandwidth usage or speed/latency, comparison of popular access point models and vendor manufacturers as well other insights that our audience finds useful.
Preseem ingests over 8 billion metrics per day from WISPs across the US and with a smaller number from Canada and international markets. We decided to leverage this huge dataset to provide a view of the fixed wireless industry across service providers and vendors. From a marketing perspective, it was probably one of the best decisions we ever made.
From a marketing perspective, it was probably one of the best decisions we ever made.
Since its launch in fall of 2018, this report has been a grand success. We recently launched the fifth edition (2020 Q3) of this report and it continues to be one of our biggest inbound sources of organic traffic and sales interest.
The report has widespread credibility and every new edition gets hundreds of unique downloads representing a significant portion of the market and its influencers. These come from not only WISPs and their staff but industry vendors, associations, government agencies, consultants, and researchers.
Man, so many great points there—it absolutely pains me that more companies don’t leverage their data in this manner. It’s exactly the type of asymmetric bet that can take your business to new heights, and I’m a believer in the long-term value of educating the market.
And on a similar note, you’ve recently started a “Geek Chat” webinar series in which you dive into technical subjects like access points and bufferbloat. Many marketing teams shy away from that sort of thing, for a multitude of reasons—what led you to go this route, and how is it working out so far?
We realize that the majority of our target audience is very technical in their day-to-day work life. After all, they either own or manage large networks dedicated to connecting people to the internet! We also recognized a growing need for helpful technical content that isn’t sales-driven (no product demos masked as ‘technical webinars’).
We also recognized a growing need for helpful technical content that isn’t sales-driven (no product demos masked as ‘technical webinars’)
When we found that there were very limited resources dedicated to creating such content, we decided to launch this casual style of conversation on technical/WISP-related topics with just a broad outline—no boring presentations. We worked with one of our software partners on the first couple of episodes, when we launched this casual geek chat back in July 2020, as they had some smart WISP-turned-into-consultants on their team.
While this was all part of brand building and general contribution to the industry, we were still surprised by the amazing response: our first episode, Access Points: The Good, Bad, and Ugly, got over 700 views!
The plan is to grow this further and adapt the series into other mediums as well (like podcasts) and do more episodes featuring not only our own resident geeks but also other partners and experts!
Let’s circle back to the beginning of our conversation. You mentioned how much Aterlo has evolved over the years from NightShift to Preseem, and you alluded to how your own role has changed. I like how you drew a clear distinction between long-term, strategic activities and the shorter-term, tactical execution. Far too many start-ups exist perpetually in a short-term trap where they mistake being busy for being effective and they assume chaos is unavoidable—or worse, a badge of honour.
By breaking free from those bonds I think you and your nascent team are setting a strong example for other marketers who find themselves in the position you were in only a few years ago, wearing all the marketing hats as a one-person team. Let’s close things off with the lessons you learned along the way and some parting advice for the up-and-coming generation of B2B technology marketers.
Phew! That’s a big way to close things off!
I’ll keep these brief but here are some of my best learnings and pieces of advice for others in the B2B technology space, especially the one- or two-people armies:
- Inbound marketing is great but don’t be afraid to focus on cold/outbound efforts when you’re small—that’s how we got our first dozen customers, without whom none of this would have been possible
- Do not discount the value of email marketing in B2B businesses—it just works
- Invest time and resources in a good CRM (we like HubSpot but do your research and get something that works for you)
- Try everything and then something more—growth marketing is all about trying new things, measuring, optimizing, measuring again and then doubling-down or moving on to something else
- Keep building your content library and have faith in remarketing/retargeting. Write even when you feel no one is reading or paying attention to your content. They will come—and once they do, make sure you capture the traffic and build your remarketing audiences.
- Hire well and hire early. Whenever it’s possible for you to add to your marketing team, do that. Look for people who can ‘take your job’ and then go and find time to look for more strategic game-changers.
Try everything and then something more—growth marketing is all about trying new things, measuring, optimizing, measuring again and then doubling-down or moving on to something else.
It’s a little all over the place but I hope one or more of these make sense to your readers!