How Steli Efti turned a Sales Consultancy into Fast-Growing Close.com

Posted on June 4, 2019

What we cover in Episode 43

On this episode of the GrowthTLDR, we talk to CEO and founder of Close, Steli Etfi. Close are a profitable company who offer fast-growing companies a CRM and sales automation platform. They’re a fully remote company with 34 employees across 12 different countries.

We talk to Steli about:

– How we never planned to launch a CRM/Sales business and how his previous attempts to grow a start-up helped him to succeed with Close.

– The unfair advantages that helped Close to gain some early traction on customer acquisition.

– Why Steli feels his personal brand is an advantage for Close

– What Close do to make being a remote company work for them

Happy Growing


[Time Stamped Notes]

[3:00] We ask Steli to guess the most expensive domain name ever bought.

[4:45] Steli gives us some background on Close. They’re a profitable company with 34 employees who work across 12 different countries. Close offer companies a CRM and sales automation platform. Steli and his founders never planned to launch a CRM and sales software business. They developed custom software to help run their sales consultancy business, and people started asking how they could get their software.

[9:25] Steli’s first business was a micro-donation platform called ‘Swipe Good’ that rounded up your purchases to the nearest dollar and gave the extra pennies to charity.

Their distribution strategy was to partner with charities who could promote the service to their audience. That plan initially got them some traction, but as they began to work with larger charities, they discovered the engagement rates of those audiences was terrible. The email lists weren’t engaged, so their growth stalled.

[15:25] Close had a lot of unfair advantages that would be difficult for another company to replicate when it came to acquiring new customers in the first 12 to 24 months. They had been running a sales consultancy and were working with over 200 venture-backed SaaS businesses. That helped them a lot to learn what did and didn’t work when it came to scaling a company.

Close leaned into content marketing to grow their business. Close tested a bunch of different marketing channels, but nothing works as well as content marketing.

[21:00] When Steli and team first started producing content, they didn’t think about it as a search first approach; instead, they approached it as an audience first. They wanted to publish compelling content for their audience.

Over time their approach has become a little more search focused. The split between audience and search first is now about 50/50.

[24:00] Steli focuses on content that’s very relevant to their potential customers. He is ok with less traffic if it converts at high rates.

[25:00] No one marketing playbook works for every company when it comes to customer acquisition.

[28:50] Different marketing playbooks will work at different stages of a companies growth.

Not everything you do to grow your brand can be effectively measured. Close want to publish content that creates a connection with their audience. It’s hard to measure this.

Your brand matters a lot. Ask yourself, if your company disappears tomorrow, will anyone care.

[34:00] Steli thinks having a strong personal brand and being a strong face for Close has been an advantage in their growth.

It helps to humanize the Close brand. People feel connected to people.

It can only work for a company if the person is authentic about it and they’re a good storyteller.

[41:00] A fully remote company needs to be a lot more proactive about creating a company culture and creating connections between co-workers.

For someone who works remotely, you to need to be very disciplined about how you spend your time.

[47:45] Close put on two large retreats every year for all employees. These help colleagues to build personal connections with each other. The retreats require a lot of planning, often up to 3 months.

They’ll also do mini-retreats for groups of people around specific events, e.g., when they’re planning to launch a new feature.

To help all employees get to know each other better, not just those who work on the same team, they’ll do random pair-ups of employees who work on different teams.

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