‘People Development’ Drives AppSumo to $80 Million in Revenue

Bandholz: Smaller brands cannot afford expensive employees. It’s a cash-flow problem. An entrepreneur can’t hire a person in the U.S. for less than ,000. If a company is doing million in revenue, that’s a big chunk of profit.
Al-Abdullah: Twitter is the easiest — @aymanalabdul. My website is AymanAlAbdullah.com. I have a link on my home page to a free Notion template to help manage and organize a team. Anyone can use it.
Al-Abdullah: It depends on where you are as a CEO. Do you have an established leadership team to handle every fire drill? Bandholz: One lesson from that is knowing how to use the extra time productively.
Al-Abdullah: Let’s walk through the levels of growth in a business. Getting to million is an incredible, arduous journey. It’s three pillars to get to that point. First, who is your ideal client, the person you’re solving the problem for?
When I joined the company, the entire team was focused on SumoMe, an email capture tool. I would close a deal on Monday, write the copy on Tuesday, send an email on Wednesday, support customers on Thursday, and reach out to prospects on Friday. I did that every week. I didn’t enjoy it, and it wasn’t my strength. Plus it didn’t produce much money for the business.
Al-Abdullah: Almost all of it, perhaps.
Bandholz: How can people reach out?
So once you get to about million in annual revenue, everything changes, and many businesses reach a bottleneck. They’re stalling due to a people problem. Before about million, you’re in product development mode. Afterward, you’re in people development. The goal for that type of CEO is to rise above the day-to-day crises.
I last interviewed Ayman Al-Abdullah for this podcast in 2018. He was the CEO of AppSumo, the daily deals site for digital goods, having joined in 2015 after launching and selling two businesses himself. He resigned as CEO in late 2021.
Al-Abdullah: We never will if it’s salary alone. But we can compete on the intangibles.
Bandholz: AppSumo blew up during that period.
There had to be a better way. I asked myself, “What is taking up my time?” It was a combination of customer service, admin work, and launching new deals.
For example, we believe in helping the underdogs and the next generation of entrepreneurs. Almost all employees at the company run a side hustle. They believe in entrepreneurship.
Eric Bandholz: It’s been four years since you’ve been on the show.
During his tenure, AppSumo’s annual revenue grew from million to a whopping million. He attributes the growth to “people development” — hiring the right team and delegating the work.
Bandholz: You’re no longer AppSumo’s CEO. What now?
Bandholz: How does the entrepreneur know when to make that hire?
So I started building a team that would address each of those elements. We hired Chris Schelzi to handle the backend of AppSumo. We hired Olman Quesada to close deals. Slowly, over time, I extracted myself from the day-to-day details.
My entire audio conversation with Al-Abdullah is embedded below. The transcript is edited for clarity and length.
We support our team’s side efforts. We’ll do side hustle Saturdays and help them work and build their businesses.
The personnel change enabled me to work on projects two to three quarters, if not years, in advance.
So I’m now doing advisory work for a handful of companies. I’ve found the work very rewarding. It’s an opportunity to stay close to business while not being in the driver’s seat, which is more than a full-time job, as you well know.
Ayman Al-Abdullah: Right. We discussed the rise of AppSumo. Last year I stepped down as the CEO.
Al-Abdullah: I planned to step back and enjoy myself. But I had many people reach out to me about joining their company as CEO. I wasn’t ready for that, but I am interested in coaching and helping others. I could have benefited from it when I was starting in the trenches.
Until you have the team and processes in place, you should expect the job to be hard. It is not easy.
Al-Abdullah: Exactly. It’s an essential skill to learn, especially if you’re a bootstrap business. AppSumo is 100% bootstrapped. It’s critical to use the time wisely.
So I looked at my contacts. I hired an intern from the honors business group at the University of Texas here in Austin. He ended up working for AppSumo for six months. I paid him an hour out of pocket through Venmo for about 10 hours a week.
Al-Abdullah: That’s a great call out. Here’s what I did at AppSumo.
Third, how will you communicate the product to the target audience? It’s critical to know who you’re reaching. Otherwise, you release a product without knowing who it helps. It’s the equivalent of addressing a love letter to “Whom it may concern.”
Al-Abdullah: An entrepreneur or CEO should slowly back away from the business, where you are no longer involved in the operations and production. Otherwise, you’re not going to have the time to focus on growth.
Bandholz: You were a great salesperson. How did you know when to hand it off?
Bandholz: You have great insights about hiring.
Heres’ an example. Shortly after starting at AppSumo in 2015, I went on a vacation to Columbia. I was looking forward to having two weeks away. But I spent the entire vacation in the hotel lobby putting out fires and answering customer support tickets.
So those three things — person, product, promotion — can get you to mid-seven figures, depending on the type of business.
It was an amazing ride. It was fun working with Noah Kagan, who founded the company, and the entire team. However, a business with dramatic growth requires a different type of CEO. That’s why I stepped down. We needed someone to take us to the next level.
Bandholz: Speaking of a full-time job, what are your thoughts on a CEO’s working hours? Society is changing, it seems, and no longer expects that person to work nonstop.
Al-Abdullah: We were doing about million in revenue when I took over. When I stepped down, we were doing million and growing 80% per year. We’re knocking on nine-figure-revenue territory now.
Second, what is the product? What will you deliver to those clients?
Bandholz: Let’s discuss compensation. You and I are here in Austin. We compete for local employees with Facebook, Google, the big players. How do you make AppSumo competitive with those companies?
Sure enough, I was in Europe a few years later and entirely offline. The business was thriving. There were no fire drills.
We recognized, for example, that if we doubled our effort towards sales and closed better deals, we would grow the business. And that’s what happened. It’s like understanding your strategic flywheel. If you know your business’s flywheel, you can’t help but bring in more customers.
It all started with the part-time intern. There are a ton of places to find that type of employee. Look overseas. Hire a mom seeking to get back into the workforce. Hire a student. Consider a virtual assistant. They’ll all do incredible work.
That’s 0 weekly. Any business can afford that. The intern freed an entire day for me each week. I then was able to close more deals. Suddenly the business started growing by 20% to 30%. That extra revenue allowed me to make my first full-time hire.
For me, that was a multi-year process. We hired Olman for sales and eventually built an incredible sales team. In the interim, I closed around three deals a week, then two deals, and then one.

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