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7 nuggets of learnings from SaaStr 2018

To be right in the heart of the SaaS (software as a service) action, and learn from the best in the industry, we hopped over to San Francisco, USA, to attended SaaStr 2018 — the biggest SaaS conference in the world. It’s literally where the crème de la crème of software genius congregates.

What an exciting few days! From attending thought-provoking presentations, meeting fascinating people in the coffee queues, learning what “scrappy” means (it’s the little things), to playing with the doggies in the puppy park (clever marketing at its best) – it was certainly an experience that will inspire me for a good while.

I share some of my key learnings from the event, most of which apply to any type of business. Including snippets from speakers who presented on stage, spontaneous conversations had in breakout areas and quotes picked up from here and there.

1. “You can’t focus on the cherries on top when the actual cake is made of dog shit”.

In other words, the foundation of your company and core strategy need to provide one single direction for your product team, marketing and sales. Otherwise you all end up moving in different directions, thereby causing mass confusion for customers. And subsequently, major problems for you (as a business owner). Make or break decisions are based just as much in what you won’t do as they are in what you will do, says Des Traynor, co-founder Intercom.

2. “There is not a playbook for success”.

So says Therese Tucker, CEO and founder, BlackLine. That’s a myth! So, what might work well for one business could sink yours. The businesses that are most likely to succeed often fail, and sometimes those that are overlooked, quietly succeed. People may have a playbook for their business, but it doesn’t mean it automatically transfers to a new business with a new set of individuals. Companies are like people in that they have a unique DNA and thus, a unique culture.

3. “Don’t measure revenue, measure bookings”.

On a similar note, David Skok, General Partner at MatrixPartners, mentioned that just because someone may advise you to do one thing may not mean that it’s right for the particular phase of business you’re in (especially if you’re a start-up). His awe-inspiring presentation takes us through the three phases of the start-up lifecycle and how it’s actually all about bookings, not ARR (annual recurring revenue). So, SaaS companies should be focused on bookings = net new ARR. What you want is ARR with growing bookings (as opposed to flat bookings). Says David, the way to measure ARR is through net new ARR: that is, new ARR (new customers) plus expansion ARR (existing customers) minus churned ARR (lost customers).

Bookings = Net New ARR (New + Expansion – Churned)

The key focus for any SaaS company is to find a repeatable, scalable and profitable growth model; including closing early access sales, making your customers successful and finding a predictable model, and then making it as scalable and profitable as possible. This summary does not do David’s presentation justice, however, to finish on a key takeaway: “wow” the customer early on. Literally shorten the steps it takes for your prospect to reach the “wow” stage.

Alyona and CEOs at SaaStr 20182.jpeg

3 women in this photo are CEOs of enterprise NLP SaaS companies (Maria Grineva, Co-Founder and CEO at Orb Intelligence, Inc; Kieran Snyder CEO at Textio and Thematic CEO Alyona Medelyan).

4. “If you want to find bigger success, stop focusing on revenue”.

COO of Intercom, Karen Peacock, concurs, saying “if you want to find bigger success, stop focusing on revenue”. Value and engagement will bring revenue consequently, but ensure you have a deep understanding of your customer. Figure out how to measure the value you add and improve from there. Fuel your best ideas by doing these two things: 1, Fall in love with the problem of today, not the solution of tomorrow. And 2, Watch what people do, not what they say.

5. “It’s a marathon not a sprint”.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, CEO of Atlassian, shares his top two: 1, It’s a marathon not a sprint – don’t let the fast pace of the industry burn you out before you’ve even started. And 2, These are the good old days. Yes, you should absolutely appreciate where you’ve been and know where you’re going but – don’t forget to appreciate where you are today. Else, you’ll build a company based on nostalgia and crucially, the “back when we were [X] mentality” doesn’t make you happier or more productive in the present. He also emphasizes the importance of customer centricity: “Making decisions with passion for the customers helps you solve people problems in a way that truly cares for those people. The impact of every decision should be thought through for your customer.”

6. AI will not (necessarily) get you fired.

What about AI? A panel of entrepreneurs on AI agreed that AI is about enabling relationship building, it does provide insight but you have to have the automation to make it work. People who are afraid of it, don’t understand AI. There’s a growing nervousness, fear and mistrust for people who are scared about if and how AI will change their job. They won’t necessarily lose their job due to AI technology, but AI will (and is) definitely impacting jobs tremendously. For example, at Thematic, we use AI to help companies ensure that relevant customer feedback automatically flows to the right people in the organization.

7. “Bet on the weird one”.

The biggest takeaway from Mailchimp CMO, Tom Klein’s, presentation: “bet on the weird one” i.e. the one you don’t expect will win. (Do you agree with this? Comment below!). He also talked about finding deeper meaning in little moments. How important it is to learn from our failures and looking for the romance in the stories we tell. Differentiation in the market comes from being personal, and yes occasionally, a little weird! But the crucial element is to tell the real story of those little moments, and understand what lies behind them, otherwise as a business you lag behind.

And, to finish on a relatable note (business owners, collectively say “om” and exhale): “If it was easy, everyone would do it”, to quote Therese Tucker, BlackLine.


Obligatory selfie: Three of the Thematic team at a SaaStr networking event, enjoying conversation in between pinball games (as you do). (Alyona Medelyan, Caroline Fernandes and Agi Marx).

What was your experience of SaaStr? Share your thoughts by commenting below!

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