Confessions of a Start-Up Matriarch — SaaStr Annual Recap: Part 1

Agenda: VC Firm Advice and a Link I’m Not Supposed to Share

Ladies love SaaS money.

Before I get into it, the elephant in the room. SaaStr’s Annual conference took place February 7–9. Today is May 18th. So, you may be thinking, why would you write this now? Well, I drafted this months ago and didn’t publish it. So there. BUT ALSO, SaaStr just released some of my favorite sessions on YouTube, which is supposed to be for attendees only, but rules are for suckers. So I’m sharing.

VCs really brought it. My favorite portion of SaaStr was the “Show Me Money” sessions. Those aren’t on YouTube, which is a bummer, but here were my main takeaways.

First place: Paige Craig from Arena VC*, who took all of 10 minutes to show a room of 50+ why any start-up would be lucky to have him in their corner. Beyond my personal favorite, his free usage of F-bombs, his main messages:

1) don’t be a douchebag 
2) even founders, or actually ESPECIALLY founders, have to actually do WORK 
3) be passionate about your idea, if you don’t think it’s the best thing ever, something you’d mortgage your house for and go into massive debt to stand behind, get a better idea or at least one you can believe in more. He said, life is hard — so you have to be resilient and doing something you believe in. 
So I guess #4 would be — don’t be a pussy. He was awesome and inspiring and obviously a fucking badass.

The other VC “Show Me Money” sessions were also really good:

Second place: Scaling 1–10m ARR Outside of Silicon Valley
Highlights: The whole premise of this talk is something a non-Silicon Valley start-up, like my beloved little gem, can easily get behind — basically, why we outside of the Valley are doing things differently and sometimes better… nananabooboo SV. Here was Patrick Meenan’s stellar advice:

1) when you’re under 20 employees, get a recruiter to find you talent. EVERYONE at this conference was talking about creating networks and blah, blah, blah… but listen, not living in Silicon Valley makes that REALLY hard. And sometimes people don’t want to move to Phoenix. Hiring for us is SO much work already, it’s good advice to think about the value of an internal recruiter and having one in the very near future. 
2) build a community of customers to sell your product. People love an underdog (like does anyone EVER want the Yankees to win?) so position yourself as the underdog and turn your customers into advocates that will sell your wares better than even you can. 
3) running a conservative business is OK. Sometimes the lack of profit paired with a seemingly endless influxes of money in Silicon Valley can seem like a bunch of kids playing Monopoly, outside of SV, apparently people are far more conservative — like bootstrapping a SaaS product from the profits of your consulting firm — a la Trello or me.

Third: Grow 10x Faster & Cheaper with Product-Led Growth
Highlights: This session, which featured the bearded Blake Bartlett (his profile does NOT have a beard which is a pretty big let down) from OpenView, was all about letting the product and consumer usage of the product lead ahead of profit. Key takeaways:

1) Think of prospects as non-paying customers, instead of the often-times adversarial “prospect” mentality. And when you THINK of them as non-paying customers, you’re bound to service them like they are a CUSTOMER instead of an enemy 
2) Lead with value first. Paywalls follow value. 
3) Make it easy to sign up and easy to share

First Loser: IPOs and Big Exists! A VC’s Playbook to Scale SaaS to Build Long Lasting Companies
Highlights: First note, it’s really not fair that this guy is LAST, because it insinuates failure. This guy’s a big deal and so is his firm, Sierra Ventures. Much of his information was targeted for companies further along; in fact, I have one note from the session and it’s awkward and probably wrong… so I’m not even gonna share it.

Also in VCs killin’ it news, the last session I was able to attend before hopping on a plane was “The State of the Cloud.” An ambiguous name — so much so that my colleagues were like, “Let’s go.” I said “No.” No is my go-to reaction to really anyone telling me what to do (like refrain from sharing videos) and it was certainly rewarded here. I got to sit in my “rightness,” as I watched Bessemer Venture Partners’ Byron Deeter and Kristina Shen tag-team the hell out of one of the most info-packed sessions of the conference. And, Mr. Lemkin may not like this, but here’s a YouTube of the entire preso: It’s apparently only going to be available for another couple of weeks, so don’t delay. Watch this shit.

If you can’t, here’s my recap of their 2017 predictions: Pay attention to your architecture and the API backbone of your product, be on mobile, AI needs a helping hand from humans and voice activated shit will be yuge, NPS EVERY. GD. THING., and hire people that don’t look, sound or think EXACTLY like you.

Coming up in Part 2: My new obsession with Jason Lemkin and Peter Gassner and event-specific stuff

*I read Paige’s bio for the first time right now to place that link and… you guys, is he the inspiration for War Dogs? Told you he’s badass.