SaaStr Annual recap: What we learned
Thousands of SaaS executives, founders, and investors flock to the San Francisco Bay area each year to seek a new vision on how to scale a company, win talent wars, move the market, learn the latest industry insights, and of course - to network. All of this happens during SaaStr Annual.
This year at SaaStr Annual, there were approximately 300 speakers, including Dropbox, Salesforce, SurveyMonkey, Zoom, HubSpot, and more. These great SaaS companies are building and growing their businesses in both a profitable and sustainable way.
First and foremost, SaaStr Annual is really worth visiting when you’re a growing startup. That’s because it’s always beneficial to learn from the best.
One of the key differences that distinguishes SaaStr Annual from other events is that this event doesn’t inundate attendants with endless commercials, pitching, and selling. SaaStr annual is all about sharing insights, forging new connections, and demoing and learning about new opportunities to add real value to your product.
With our focus on building dedicated teams for SaaS companies, the iTechArt team packed its suitcases and headed to San Francisco to get the latest insights on what’s happening in the constantly evolving SaaS world. In this post, we gathered some takeaways we think are worthy of your attention from the sessions we managed to attend. Disclaimer: these are not only key takeaways, but also our comments and remarks.
The first day of SaaStr Annual was full of inputs on scaling as it relates to business, revenue, team, and customer success.
Zoom founder Eric Yuan shared the story of his success. He actually started building Zoom as a solo founder 8 years ago with a mission to create a better video conferencing tool. He quite succeeded with $145.5M being raised in Series D funding two years ago.
Being a solo player at the beginning of his path, he was forced to learn a lot about sales, marketing, etc. “Learn as fast as you can,” he stated. “The process of building a successful company is a long journey and never an overnight success. Be patient and keep working as hard as you can.”
Another important milestone worth mentioning is that a founder should always keep in mind things that can be done differently in order to improve the existing product.
Eric also highlighted the importance of concentrating on a product. “If your product works better than any other solution - than you have a chance to succeed.” And never forget about end-users. Make sure your customers are happy and make sure your employees are happy as well.
Probably one of the brightest takeaways from the presentation From Freemium to Enterprise delivered by Slack team (Kevin Egan, VP of North American Sales and Dannie Herzberg, Head of Mid-Market Sales) was the idea of creating value for users while avoiding extra value.
Founder and CEO of RingCentral, Vlad Shmunis talked about his journey from an idea to a billion-dollar business and highlighted the importance of embracing change. To be able to adapt quickly to the market or users’ needs is one of the key strategies that help companies survive.
Among the speakers on SaaStr Annual Day 2 were representatives from unicorn companies like Glassdoor, Adaptive Insights, Duo Security, Dropbox, and Pluralsight.
One of the key points was the need for the right marketing strategy for any company doing business in 2019. The session Top Five Hottest Topics in Marketing delivered by the representatives of Host Analytics, Dynamic Signal, and PluralSight is also among sessions we are covering here.
From a marketer’s perspective, the key thing to turn a product into a success is to build a stable pipeline. Giving more money to a marketer today doesn’t mean it will result in more pipeline tomorrow. It is vital to remember that there is no value in the pipeline if it doesn’t turn into revenue.
In building a successful marketing strategy, it’s also important to understand what a company really wants: customer retention, value for users, and to create a community of people who are using a product.
Getting early feedback is as vital as staying in constant dialogue with customers to trim the edges of an newly launched SaaS product. It’s important to work on model targets, cost per opportunity, understanding how many opportunities you need, and your conversion rate.
After setting up goals and expectations, don’t forget to build reports because figures speak louder than words. To make your data work, you should set up quarterly business reviews and weekly standups. Everything has to be about numbers. Create a data-driven maniacal focus on results and revenue. This will prove to be the secret sauce for success.
Fundraising is what really helps startup evolve. Stripe is one of the unicorn companies that delivered their insights on scaling. The company has recently raised $100M in Series E funding while having $793.5M raised in total. These folks really know how to scale.
One of the most common mistakes among startups is the fact that they are trying to tackle multiple problems from the products at the same time. “We often see a company starting to promote Product 2 while not having a real product-market fit yet.”
Another mistake is about not understanding a business model. Most of the companies don’t really understand the process to acquire customers. “What you really need to do is to pursue your strategy.” The key thing to building success is to find the right product-market fit while having a clear understanding of how you solve a particular problem.
Lessons learned from scaling Stripe
Stripe helps companies of every size to not only accept payments, but also manage billings, tackle fraud, issue cards, and handle pretty much everything associated with payments.
“You need to have a reason to exist. In this regard, Stripe is striving to increase the GDP of the Internet.” The point is that you need to create value, specifically when you’re disrupting traditional industries.
When building a company, you need to set up and adhere to company culture from very early on. These principles should be reflected in your DNA. Some of the operating principles at Stripe are being relevant, believable, and deliverable. It’s totally okay for the principles to change, but leaders and early employees should embody them.
While operating a SaaS company, it’s vital to put users first when building a product. No matter how many users you have or on what market you’re operating, you need to know your “forever user” like you know your best friend. You need to get a lot of early feedback. Even today, if Stripe gets a certain concern or complaint from a user, the company reaches out to them because the experience of a customer is what really matters.
For their tech audience, Stripe strives to provide an easy on-ramp. They know that users don’t want to fill out a lot of forms. They want to get it going and test immediately. “Integrate your SaaS product with as many languages as you can. This diversity really matters here so that developers can easily get started.”
When launching a new SaaS product, don’t forget that your documentation should be simple and accessible. The support team for your product is a must from the very beginning. Ideally, it should be from the engineering team trimming the edges of your product in line with feedback gathered internally and externally.
Another takeaway is about the product launch: “When launching a new product, stick strictly to the “Names.” You need to name the team, product, organization, processes, meeting rooms, etc.” Complicated names result in extra costs and marketing trying to explain what you actually mean. iPhone, Apple Music - are great examples of simple naming.
The presentation of Michael Seibel, CEO and Partner at Y Combinator, kicked off with a quite promising statement: “We’re experts in failure.” With YC considered one of the most powerful accelerators in the US with around 2000 funded companies, they really know what failure actually means. YC graduates include companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, Quora, Reddit, Instacart, and Docker.
SaaStr Annual impressions from the iTechArt team
The iTechArt team was really thrilled to be among the attendants of the SaaStr Annual 2019. Going to SaaStr, the expectations were high, and we were not disappointed.
One of the most amazing things is that you get to meet so many people. All of them have a few goals in mind, such as networking or obtaining funding. It’s really cool to hear all their different stories and see how we can engage with them.
For example, some wanted to create a plan for their MVP, so that the next time they go to SaaStr or anywhere else, they can raise funding easily.
Here’s an overall tip for all SaaStr attendants: plan and schedule meetings ahead of the time! There are so many bright people to meet and so many panel discussions to attend.
And because there were companies of all stages - early startup and unicorns - you can get a good understanding of what's going on in the SaaS industry. The amount of knowledge-sharing was overwhelming at times, but invaluable nonetheless!
“From my perspective, the sessions from Qualtrics and Stripe were just amazing! What was really interesting is the way they describe the different milestones you should be at depending at what level you’re funding. At Series A you should have at least a million in recurring revenue or a high-level adoption of your platform. The talks at SaaStr are really about how you get that annual RR (recurring revenue) and how you grow it. It’s all about the RR.” - Matt Andrade, Business Development Manager at iTechArt.
The beauty of SaaStr is that you get to meet people face to face. You can make big moves when you meet the right people!
Looking forward to future SaaStr Annual discoveries! See you in a year!