Posted on
January 18, 2024

Pivoting to a new business model

Alan Zhao
Pivoting to a new business model

The B2B marketing and sales industry is one of the hardest to conquer. But, despite the challenges, Warmly has managed to stand out. Learn about how Alan Zhao and his team said goodbye to the "spray and pray" tactic, and instead focused on building a powerful brand on LinkedIn.

What is your company doing and what was the pivotal moment that led to the creation of your business?

Warmly helps sales teams find and convert more "warm leads" by de-anonymizing website traffic, filtering through high-intent accounts, and automating sales outreach via email, LinkedIn, and chat on your sales rep's behalf.

We realized for ourselves that it was becoming increasingly difficult to fill our own pipeline for a previous product we had built, and this was also entering the fall of 2022 during the mini tech selloff when nobody was buying B2B SaaS software.

To understand sales development better I actually left Warmly for a few weeks to go be an SDR at Aucto (a fellow NFX portfolio company). That's when the picture started to become more clear about "right timing" being one of the big unsolved problems in sales. Spray and pray tactics were no longer working. Better to know when someone needed your solution, and then act on that knowledge while it's still relevant for them.

How do you identify and prioritize new growth channels?

We knew we were entering a competitive space (sales/marketing tech) so decided to design a new category within sales and marketing tech that we could be leaders of. We realized it wasn't always the best product that won the market. It was typically the best brand.

So we decided to push towards becoming thought leaders. We prioritized LinkedIn primarily because our audience lived there. We'd have multiple members of the team post daily high quality content on LinkedIn, amplify bigger announcements via sales and marketing influencers in our network, and set up LinkedIn sequences to auto-connect and message our ICP about our product.

To stay true to our brand we never did any outreach cold. Instead of carpet bombing the market with a generic sequence, we'd layer in intent from Warmly and 6sense to determine companies in-market to buy and then run omnichannel playbooks of LinkedIn, email, and website chat on those accounts. Sequences were tailored towards the persona and we'd include videos and product tours to improve resonance and consumability.

The Warmly brand started to grow, and as it did we noticed a big shift over to video and audio content being consumed. So we've made a big push there.

Which tech tools, software, apps, etc. do you use religiously in your business?

Because we're trying to build a content factory, one of my favorite tools is Letterdrop, which helps me create, publish, and amplify our content across various channels like blog, Medium, LinkedIn, etc. I use Positional daily, which is similar to Semrush or ahref, to see what content we should be writing to maximize the impact of our content.

I love for making short form youtube/tiktok reels out of long-form videos, as well as Midjourney for AI generated art for blog post hero and cover images.

And Warmly of course to convert our traffic once prospects visit our site!

What is that one opportunity that had a significant impact on your company's growth or direction?

The biggest one was making the decision to pivot from a "cool product in search for a market" into a "great market in search for a solution."

We knew there would be appetite for something that could orchestrate your techstack to automate most of sales, because companies were already paying a lot of money for humans to do it manually. Once we got our brand, story, and positioning right we hit the market hard with a "lightning strike," our series A announcement. That got a lot of people talking about us. That brand recognition has increased leads and accelerated conversion rates across the funnel.

The other opportunity was bringing on our head of revenue, Keegan Otter, who has built a repeatable sales motion at Warmly where we have exceeded quota every quarter since his arrival. Keegan came referred from one of our advisors, Zoe Hartsfield. When Zoe saw that Warmly was hiring for a head of sales she immediately messaged me saying that Keegan was the best of the best and that we had to hire him. So glad we did!

What are some of the challenges you’ve come face to face with on your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?

It was learning how to make outsized impact on the business rather than getting a lot done. The GM of our old product, Alessandro Cetera, said it would sometimes feel like we were "swimming but not really moving."

When I was doing engineering at Warmly I focused on my production output as the impact I could make on the business. Every day try to get a pull request up of something useful, irrespective of anything else that got in the way. Get good at all things engineering. Then worry about the rest. I worked the most during this period of time.

Over time I realized as a cofounder that's not enough and I needed to work towards solving the real bottleneck to unlock the business. Everything else is an illusion.

I started taking an interest in solving these nebulous problems of the company. And in doing so has led me to do different roles within Warmly like running sales, customer success and now marketing.

After solving the problem I would hand off the function and go find and solve the next one. Nothing felt like a routine but in short bursts I would make big unlocks for the company.

How many hours per week do you work on average?

These days 60-70 hours.


Rapid fire questions


‍Favorite morning ritual  ☕

Listening to a podcast while making and eating breakfast (or lunch).


Favorite book/s 📕

The Phoenix Project, Play Bigger.


Your leadership style in one word 💼



Cats or dogs?



Mountains or beach?

Beach, but only because I love to surf!


Morning person or night owl?

Definitely a night owl!

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