27 March 2024

Cervin Founder Spotlight: Chas Ballew of Conveyor, Part 1

Chas Ballew, Founder & CEO of Conveyor, sat down with Cervin partner Daniel Karp to share his experience as a second time founder and offer advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Conveyor is the leading generative AI-powered platform that automates and scales the most tedious part of the sales process: customer security reviews. Here is part one of their two-part interview.



Daniel Karp, Partner, Cervin: All right, Chas. Thanks for coming over. It's good to have you with us. Cervin has been partners with Conveyor for a little over six months now, but we’ve known each other for longer than that. We've been super impressed with what you've built and where the company is at. Let’s go back to your roots. The first question I have is what inspired you to start the company? 


Chas Ballew, Founder & CEO, Conveyor: Thanks for having me, I'm glad we're working together as well. It's been a great six months since the Series A, and I'm looking forward to the rest. Conveyor was started as a spin out from my first startup Aptible, which is a DevOps hosting company that I started in 2014 with one of my friends from college. At Aptible, we were building DevOps tooling for engineering teams and software teams. We were building databases and app deployment and orchestration type capabilities for deploying software applications in the cloud. 


A lot of our customers were subject to HIPAA, and they were regulated in terms of compliance and security. And what we saw over and over again, was, even though they had baked in security and privacy to their architecture, and how they were running their companies, every time one of our customers wanted to go sell to a large client of their own, they had to explain their security posture over and over and over again. It would add sometimes weeks or months to their sales cycle, and it would take a lot of manual work from their sales team and security teams to fill out custom questionnaires and compliance documentation. We looked at that, and we said, this is crazy, this should be a lot faster and a lot simpler. And that's where Conveyor came from. So in 2021, Conveyor started as a free product add-on to the Aptible platform. But in 2021, it really started taking off and getting adoption, so it became clear that it was better as a separate company. We spun the company off and Conveyor’s been running on its own since 2021. 


DK: It's fascinating that when you started Aptible in 2014, almost 10 years ago, you spent cycles on solving tons of problems for customers, and then you realized that there was another set of problems that may not be natural for Aptible to solve. So you started small with sample customers, to create a new product. And then you also decided it was a different company.


So tell me a little bit about your learnings from running Aptible as a successful company and how you applied those to Conveyor?

CB: I think the real moment for us was understanding when we were going to market, the core customer for Aptible was a software engineering team. And it's a DevOps platform that helps automate DevOps for software engineering teams. And what we found is that those engineering teams are getting pulled into security questionnaires and explaining their compliance posture. But when we started, basically making the first version of what became the Conveyor product inside Aptible, we started immediately getting requests from bigger companies, much bigger companies, and they were not using the Aptible deployment platform, but they wanted to use the product that became Conveyor. After enough traction built up, it became very clear to us that we need a separate go to market motion to explain what is what became Conveyor.


Originally, we started off by serving the same customer, the engineering teams and the technical teams. And as it became clearer and clearer that there was potential behind Conveyor, it also became clear that the engineering teams were not the core customer to be served. And that's what really led us to spin out Conveyor. The customer persona, and the problems to be solved for the customer persona, are, as you asked, what I take away from Aptible.


I think that the ability to build a product that really serves a specific customer's problems and their needs is one of the most powerful thing.


And as we looked at the core customers for Aptible and these engineering teams, and then the traction that we were getting with Conveyor, it became very clear that the core customers were different. And that's what led us to think we need to embrace these differences. 


The ultimate goal for Conveyor is to build a visa type of network that can connect businesses so that they can instantly build trust in the future. And that's a big vision. That's not a side project for Aptible. And because of both the focus on the customers and the breadth of the vision for Conveyor, the decision that Conveyor was best as a separate company.

DK: It's interesting because it was a process. And I think, like the way you just said, there was a point in time when you decided, "Okay, this is like a different company," is when you had a better sense of, "Okay, I understand that the user personas are a little bit different, you know, the product is obviously different." We got pulled into this, but this is not exactly how you should go to market; it's a different marketing effort. So when you add those things up, it's actually different. But the thing that flipped it for you was that it's actually a different vision, a completely different vision. And it's a big vision, a broad vision; hence you need a dedicated effort. But only when you saw that everything adds up and this is a vision where you can build something big, you decided, "Okay, we're gonna do this thing."

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CB: That's exactly right. A lot of companies have a second product or a third product, and they're serving, often the same users, the same customers.

DK: That's the Holy Grail, right? You want to expand and one of the ways to expand is adding SKUs and it's easiest with all of them serving the same persona. 

CB: With the DevOps engineers that were the core persona for Aptible, we found that while Conveyor started off as an adjacent product, just to help them go to market better, the kinds of customers and the use cases and how we would sell the product became increasingly divergent. So different customers, different go to market motion. And then as you said, ultimately, the biggest kicker was realizing how big Conveyor could be, and understanding that it was best to separate it.

DK: Let's delve a bit more into that vision. You hinted at it and talked about the visa-network analogy and the network effect. But, you know, when considering Conveyor as a standalone company, there's the entry point, there's the wedge. How do you approach the customer? What services do you provide to them? And then how does that align with the broader vision of what you aim to become in the long term?

CB: So today, Conveyor is mostly a sales tool across a variety of industries - software, manufacturing and many more. We have several law firms that use Conveyor, we have a Healthcare System. What they all have in common is that stakeholders are looking at their security and their ability to protect data. So today, the customers that Conveyor serves are the vendors in the vendor-supplier relationship. We help those vendors sell the products faster, automate their sales process, and give their customers a better experience.

But the real vision for Conveyor is to have every vendor and their purchasers or customers on the network.

We want to go from selling single player software to companies, to creating a visa type network, a system where buyers and sellers can meet together, and then instantly clear compliance and security workflows with each other. 

DK: That makes a ton of sense. What's really interesting is that you found an underserved part of the market, and you're servicing them, like no one else. But the broader ecosystem that you aim to create, the end goal, is broader than that, right? 

CB: Yeah, I mean, any given vendor today might be trying to sell to a big customer. The customer will send them a spreadsheet with compliance questionnaires, and a couple of hundred questions to fill out. The vendor can fill it out and send it back, but nothing really changes; it works, and nothing really changes if we're successful. Conveyor will change how all of that works for buyers and sellers. It will allow buyers to implement sophistication, even with lengthy compliance or security questionnaires, enabling them to facilitate a seamless process. This will allow vendors to answer those questions perfectly, with no friction, instantly, with just one click, and that's very powerful. Imagine if you are a bank, manufacturing company, or a Fortune 500 company, being able to look up any vendor and conduct a perfect, confidential, highly secure assessment on that vendor in seconds.

DK: Right? It's almost like “certified by Conveyor”. 

CB: Yes. Although one of the things that is interesting is thinking about security standards, like SOC 2 or ISO 27001. Compliance with those standards makes it easier for companies to evaluate each other. But beyond that, large corporations, especially when they're looking at their vendors, often have a lot of specific security and compliance concerns that they need dealt with. And what's really powerful about Conveyor is that you can get the benefit of an easy standardized, standardized process, but still allow those customers to bring their sophisticated assessment process and still get the benefits of the automation.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this interview.