On day one, logistical problems almost threatened to ruin the SaaStr party – bottlenecks around every corner, wobbly wifi, ultra-low-key signage, not so much standing in line as standing in huge clumps of people. But we had just enough agility and resilience to stay focused on some excellent content.

We saw great ‘let me show you my scars’ presentations by Philip Fernandez, retired CEO of Marketo, Kimber Lockheart CTO at One Medical and CEO of Segment, Peter Reinhardt.

Key points from Fernandez:

  • If he could ‘do it again’ he’d appoint a single Chief Revenue Officer to own acquisition, growth, cross-sell, success and revenues (but not Marketing which is longer term, strategic and should be run independently).
  • Advocate charging for services from Day One.
  • Customers must be motivated to allocate time and attention to onboarding products and one way to do this is through required, priced services with every subscription. This gets them on a long-term service-rich  journey that maximises lifetime value.
  • He cautioned against being obsessed about initial deal value. He said he would always be thinking about continual upselling/upgrading – and this goes hand in hand with predictive metrics that tell you when to press for an upgrade. He would always think in terms of a two year expansion path and celebrate upselling just as much as new wins.

Lockheart gave some great examples of engineering mistakes she (and most of us in the audience) had made and grouped them as follows:

  1. Adding exponential complexity most damagingly from building features for one customer, or taking on customers who refuse to keep up with the main release cycles.
  2. Misplaced product strategy often caused by the assumption that internal users are representative of people out in the market, or sometimes driven inadvertently by the unintended adoption of unsupported emergency workarounds.
  3. Poor team collaboration exists when you see Sales people regularly active amongst the Devs – you’re probably heading for the rocks! When Devs are regularly active on the sales floor however, you’ve probably got it about right.
  4. Tech debt eventually spells doom for a business, but if you allow it to get beyond a relatively low threshold, usually because commercial people are driving release dates, then you are operating with an unquantifiable, hidden risk to your business.

Reinhardt described the experience of finding Product-Market Fit as being similar ‘to having the business ripped out of your hands by the demand’ but I personally really liked the way he hammered home that the biggest destroyer of start-up SaaS businesses is having a product that doesn’t solve a problem anybody thinks they have. SaaS entrepreneurs often persist with those kinds of products because they fool themselves into thinking that Product-Market Fit is just one more feature away. Instead they should be doing everything they can to extend their runway to have time to try something else.

Well it’s been a beautiful February day – it still feels like it’s in the Seventies this evening. More from us tomorrow.

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