How To Grow And Sell Salesforce ISV Companies (Trails Podcast Episode #1 With James Gasteen)

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How To Grow And Sell Salesforce ISV Companies (Trails Podcast Episode #1 With James Gasteen)
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Episode One: ​​James Gasteen, Founder Of Unaric And Precursive

This podcast episode is all about building, growing, merging, and selling Salesforce ISV companies.

James Gasteen, who has founded two successful companies, goes into detail about how he got to where he is today by creating an all-in-one project, resource management, and professional services automation (PSA) tool that's 100% native to Salesforce.
Follow along as we go through his story, which began over a decade ago. He will provide you with first-hand information that will help you grow and sell your ISV company.

👉 *Since the podcast was recorded, Unaris has changed to Unaric as part of building a global brand.

How Did You Begin Your Journey With Salesforce?

I founded a new business called Unaric. This makes me a second-time founder in the Salesforce space. My first business was called Precursive, which was established in January 2011.

Before that, I was a strategy consultant for about five years. My introduction to Salesforce was a ‘beautiful kind of serendipity.’ My co-founder at the time had been to an event called Dreamforce in 2010, which was very small in those days.

He came back talking about SaaS, the cloud, and this platform called He claimed that he’d seen the future and thought this would be a good platform and bet for our business.

At that time, Salesforce was very much unknown in Europe. There were a handful of ISV partners. But Salesforce didn’t have any big customers.

It made sense for us to build an app on someone else’s stack instead of building and then hosting it on, in those days, Rackspace, and then having a big DevOps team.

Straight away, we had a competitive advantage because we were built on what was then called – now Lightning.

How Did You Come Up With The Concept Of Precursive?

We had an idea for the problem we wanted to solve. We met at Deloitte. And that’s where this idea of how you solve inefficiencies came about.

When we were at Deloitte, there used to be four systems. We would use a spreadsheet to answer a few simple questions – who’s available, and when can they start?

We thought that seemed like a good problem to solve because people are expensive. And a consultancy’s job is to mobilize people in the client’s office. In those days, people used to go to the client’s office. We wanted to find a way to solve that through resource planning.

We knew the problem could also be solved by plugging into a CRM, as it could understand supply and demand. We could then say, for example, that we know demand because it’s coming through a sales pipeline.

We understand the demand for projects and resources. Precursor is the resource planning module that sits on top of Salesforce, which is the supply side.

So, all of a sudden, as a scheduler, they’re not going around trying to find out lots of different information. They’ve got it on one screen.

Tell Us About The Product Development At Precursive?

In those days, right at the start of their journey, they didn’t have any servers in Europe. So, things were relatively slow. The UX was quite clunky, and the service was slow. So, product development was all in-house with my CTO and co-founder.

We launched an initial product. It wasn’t successful. So, we had to reskin it. So, in those days, Salesforce was used by sales teams. Wider parts of the organization didn’t use it like it is used today. We quickly had to think about a UI/UX approach that wasn’t Classic.

At the time, we put Angular onto Classic. This meant that project-based users had a rapid interactive grid system. It was a real win for us, as it leveraged the power of Salesforce’s database and reporting.

Because we had Angular, it meant that we had to split our team between frontend and backend. This was a challenge because we were the only ones doing it with Angular. Lightning soon came along.

Throughout that, we’d always had our in-house team. We tried outsourcing, but we could never really get it to work. So, we built a team in Poland initially with two guys – we then built that up. But I think there are still ten people out in Poland today.

You Mentioned That Salesforce Didn’t Have Any Presence In Europe. At Which Point Did That Change And Did It Help You With Product Development?

I think as they started to really focus on Europe, on the UK, they built out a field sales team. So, before, a lot of the team was based in Dublin. They started building out a team in London. And they started going upstream. So, they started moving from SMB to mid-market to enterprise.

The partner program got more successful as Salesforce got more successful. This also meant that consulting partners started training on Salesforce.

Salesforce provides a range of programs and incentives to help ISVs grow their businesses. These programs include the AppExchange Partner Program, which provides resources and support to help ISVs develop, market, and sell their applications.

The ecosystem then grew in Europe between 2011 – 2016.

When it’s SMB, it’s harder because it was all telesales. This was tricky to do, whereas when you had Salesforce in London, you’d go and see them.

You could go and see them with a partner. You could work on accounts and deals together. That’s when it really took off in the ecosystem.

In Terms Of The Go-To-Market, Were You Relying On Salesforce For Sales And Marketing, Or Did You Do It In-House?

It was a bit of both. We believed we’d have to have our own kind of go-to-market. This is because we couldn't be entirely dependent on AppExchange.

AppExchange was an excellent source of business for our team regarding the number and quality of our leads.

He’s not wrong, as there are over 5K ISVs in the Salesforce ecosystem, with over 6 million installs of their applications on the Salesforce AppExchange marketplace.

But we could see that they would drop. So, that’s when we started building up the partner side of the business, as in working with Salesforce and with partners. That’s when we could see that the customers were bigger and deals could close more quickly.

AppExchange is where people have a problem. They are looking for something, they click a button, and our team would contact them. The buying cycle would then begin.

If it was a bigger deal or a longer sales cycle, that’s when we would work with partners. This is because partners can cut through the process as there is a sense of trust.

You’re being bought in. So, that’s one of the main things we developed over time.

The bigger the customers we could acquire through AppExchange and hard work, the more we could tell Salesforce’s success stories and build the circle that way.

Back In 2012, When You First Launched On the AppExchange, There Were Much Fewer ISVs And Providers, Right?

Yeah, there were fewer ISVs then. This meant it was easier to cut through the competition, whereas now, over 4K apps are out there. There are also different collections and platforms like G2 Crowd.

When it comes to the AppExchange, according to a study by Forrester, businesses that use Salesforce's AppExchange applications see an average ROI of 478%.

AppExchange is still the place for solutions in the Salesforce world. But if someone wanted a shortlist of DevOps platforms, they wouldn’t buy one on AppExchange. That person would probably research and read white papers, or they would go to Salesforce events.

How Did You Go About Merging Taskfeed With Precursive?

I’d been working with Taskfeed as a partner between 2010 – 2015. Whenever there was a requirement for project management, we’d bring Taskfeed onboard.

I would contact Andy Mahood, the Founder of Taskfeed, and explain our needs. Through working together, we had several successful instances of winning. Our wins were against some bigger incumbents and peers.

After that, we saw the prospect of going to market together, as customers wanted a single solution.

They would often say they wanted ‘one throat to choke.’ So, customers would say that you’ve both got the best products, but I want one vendor. I want one contract. I don’t want two contracts. I don’t want two support channels. I don’t want two terms and conditions. So, it was a signal from the market.

I reached out to Andy to ask him what he thought about bringing the two companies together. We worked through it with many whiteboarding sessions. We were also doing the work internally to bring the two companies together.

The merger cost £10K in legal fees, but it was well worth it as it broadened our comprehensive platform. There was also more value for our customers, as everything was now in one product and entity.

How Was The Merge Structured?

It was a straightforward process. We didn’t do anything too ‘exotic.’ The plan was to merge, and then we’d be a larger entity when we went to market. The private equity financing also helped take Precursive to the next level.

Both companies, pre-merger, were on the smaller side. So, to get some big financing and bring the two companies together placed us both in the sweet spot of private equity.

Are You Still Running Precursive And Taskfeed Together?

I stepped out of Precursive towards the end of 2020 while still on the board. I am still a big fan and cheerleader.

I was then working in the background on what is now Unaric for the last two odd years. I was getting that set up in the background.

Tell Us About Your New Company – Unaric?

When they brought together Precursive and Taskfeed, we could see that we had the existing customers and the same tech stacks.

One area that was surprising to us was when we looked at the customer win. That is building a broader solution or a cross-sell. Looking at this over time, we found that customers who bought both products increased by almost tenfold in under two years.

By bringing the companies together and educating our customers about assisted products, we got a lot of cross-sales. This was all during COVID when there weren’t any events or face-to-face interactions. That’s when this big kind of light bulb moment took place for me.

At the same time, I knew first-hand the pain points of traditional sources of financing and exit options. It either wasn’t a good fit, or it wasn’t available.

So, there was this opportunity for cross-selling and bringing companies together.

But, at the same time, there wasn’t a good place in the ecosystem for a bootstrap founder who wanted to take their business to the next level.

This was when I created a company – Unaric – alongside experienced founders to help companies get to that next level and, at the same time, build out the most extensive suite of apps on Salesforce.

There’s not just myself. We’ve got three other founders. So, we’ve got Peter Lindholm on the board, whose last business was a unicorn B2B/B2C. We’ve got Neil Crawford, who built out a distribution engine on AppExchange. We’ve also got Moritz Birke, who comes from a finance background.

Unaric has a method of working with founders to provide an exit path. We use our internal resources to figure out how these complimentary products work together, and how we can, in turn, create more value for our customers.

How Do You Go About Acquiring Companies?

We want to keep founders onboard. These are typically bootstrap companies with 500K plus ARR. At that stage, founders are critical.

I am not looking to do their job for them. I want to work with the founders. So, this isn’t necessarily a case of replacing founders, as you might see in much bigger deals.

It is very much about how we work with them. How do we build some capabilities. So, to give you an example, many early-stage companies bootstrap one, especially ISVs. Marketing is absent, or it’s an immature type of customer success.

So, when you’re looking across that kind of customer lifecycle, sometimes, there can be gaps.

Those are the things that Unaric can address pretty quickly with our internal team. Unaric brings growth channels and functions to these companies in a very scalable way.

ISV founders would then benefit from being part of a larger company. This is because some companies get turned down because they are not big enough, they don’t have specific insurance, or they don’t have US time zone support. These tiny things are what Unaric can fix at scale.

How Do You Source The Companies You Aquire?

Luckily, both Neil and I have been in the ecosystem for about 12 years individually. So, we’ve both built businesses and good networks. We also have a good relationship with Salesforce.

For Salesforce customers, it creates less friction by having, for example, small apps and small ISV vendors in one place.

Did you know that according to a survey by Salesforce, 86% of Salesforce customers use AppExchange applications, and 89% of them say that these applications have helped them be more productive.

That’s been a great positive for us in the initial launch period. And then it’s a case of, we want to work with founders, make them successful, and tell other founders about it. It’s going to market without those fan stories that make life very hard.

This is similar to how Salesforce does it.

James told us that there are two significant trends:

  1. Industry alignment: Industry groupings have been around for a while. Sales teams would be structured in an industry alignment. It was a sales structure. It wasn’t a product structure. Salesforce then thought about products aligned with an industry roadmap, so they have the go-to market. ISVs are now thinking about how to verticalize. It’s not about a generic product, but more about the uniqueness of their product. So, it’s about ensuring the go-to-market and the product are aligned.
  2. Build multi-platforms early on: This means reducing dependency on Salesforce, as its market is finite. There are only 170K customers. To increase reach, organizations need to go multi-platform. From a technical perspective, it presents some challenges. Some people are building some of their solutions off platforms like AWS. These organizations have to create a parallel Lightning platform on the integration side. Organizations can go multi-platform, but they incur many costs early on. So, it’s all about reducing these risks.

What Are Some Dos And Don’ts For ISV Company Founders?

James suggests the following dos and don’ts:

Focus on an idle customer profile (ICP)

It can change over time, but I believe ICPs can help to have some structure so that developers or engineers are not building a product from multiple segments. At Precursive, we had four segments.

And the dilemma was choosing one because each segment could be a big market. So, it comes down to picking one. This helps organizations when they’re thinking about outbound and inbound, and when they start to refine those initial steps of product market fit.

Focus on digestible messaging

Solutions and customer answers need to be simple and memorable.

Invest time in understanding how Salesforce works

Look at how it’s structured and how they sell. Figure out where your product adds value to Salesforce customers. Through good messaging, companies can start bringing in deals.

Be careful when trying to land larger enterprise customers

Everybody wants those ‘flashy’ logos on their website to inform their prospects and Salesforce that they’re ‘catching larger fish.’

But do keep in mind that these deals are expensive, they can take a long time to close, and it can be challenging for a smaller company to support and expand larger enterprises.

Avoid overreliance on one channel

In the early days, companies could get a lot of leads from AppExchange. AppExchange works well if a team has developed a problem-solution type of app.

But as products get more sophisticated and complex, AppExchange should not be the only channel utilized. It is best to diversify for inbound and outbound. This ensures that there’s a balance both in the number and quality of potential leads.

Until Next Time

Thank you for tuning into this episode of Hutte’s Trails Podcast, where we explored how to acquire ISVs, the ISV trends we should be paying attention to, and how James merged two solutions into an all-in-one service provider.

In the coming episodes, we’ll continue to speak with Salesforce enthusiasts and experts, who will share their experiences and insights on how to make the most out of Salesforce.

In the next episode, we interview the CEO and Founder of, Evgenii Pavlov, and what he has to say about how to start an ISV company.

We look forward to bringing you more compelling content. So, grab your gear, pack your bags, and hit the trails of Salesforce with Hutte.