Thoughts on attending SaaStock with a pre-launch start-up company

Last month, I attended SaaStock in Dublin at the invitation of ZOKRI’s founder Matt Roberts. It was an opportunity to find out what the latest trends, key players and new approaches are in the world of Software As A Service (SaaS) while helping Matt to sense check product fit and get a feel for the potential demand for ZOKRI, a pre-launch platform built to support and spur SaaS’ growth.

SaaStock Dublin — October 2018

It was a great event that I thoroughly enjoyed, more than I thought I would in fact! Having had a chance to mull it over, what follows are my key thoughts on SaaS and the event.

What a great bunch of people!

I have attended several dozens of conferences over the years and I am well familiar with the format. Most of them had Advertising or Marketing as a core subject, often with a tech angle: AdTech & MarTech. Perhaps it’s because SaaStock deals with a different core subject altogether or perhaps it is because Advertising and Marketing are far more competitive and build strong egos. Whatever the reason, I came back thinking: “What a great bunch of people”!

Everybody I spoke to was not only willing to share their experience but also very open about their approach and results. At such events, it is inevitable that everyone has an agenda of sorts. I nonetheless found all conversations were productive and collaborative; each seems to add value to both parties, irrespectively of whether they led to a positive outcome towards said “agenda”.

There was also plenty of encouragement and positive criticisms going around — refreshing!

All SaaS companies have the same challenges and tackle them in a similar manner

I listened to dozen speakers and had a meaningful conversations with perhaps 20 to 30 SaaS founders while at SaaStock and one thing is clear: no matter what field of activity a SaaS company operates in, the challenges they face and likely solutions they deploy are basically the same. There is a common thread for what is obviously a well defined and understood model!

That is not to say every single company will necessarily experience every single challenge, but rather that the pool of likely challenges and appropriate solutions is finite and well documented. Further more, each challenge / solution can be mapped to a given SaaS stage: Launch, Growth & Scale.

I have worked over the last 15 years with many companies operating on a SaaS model and this doesn’t exactly come at a surprise. However, having for the first time thought hard about it, the extend at which the SaaS model can be templatised did surprise me.

Clearly, this represents a great opportunity. There is a blueprint to SaaS success: track your own company SaaS journey against this blueprint and look at what others are doing, it will immensely help to succeed!

But there are still evolving trends to keep up with

This blueprint is evolving over time, there are new trends emerging and new approaches to ponder. Keeping up, which after all is the key reason to attend such a conference in the first place, is therefore vital. Some of the trends are cyclic. Again, this doesn’t come at a surprise. Knowing where the cycle is at and understanding what is acceptable and expected by your customers right now is vital.

As an example, a key current trend that many speakers emphasised is to do away with large sales team, therefore reducing overheads, and push a freemium version of your product that will, ultimately, sell the paying product better than a sales rep could.

Nowadays, most prospective customers would rather try the product hands-on than listen to another sales demo… This is an approach ultimately beneficial to SaaS companies but not necessarily easy to master!

Validating ZOKRI product fit

As a final thought, and back to the reason I attended SaaStock on the first place, Matt and I came back from the conference with a much better understanding of where ZOKRI likely product fit resides and a strong validation that there is indeed a need.

Every SaaS company we talked to, even though they don’t always realise it, is using a basic application of the OKR methodology. At the very least, they regularly set company objectives and have identified indicators and targets to track progress.

Most companies are anyway familiar with the OKR methodology and have attempted to align overarching company objectives to tactical teams’ and individuals’ OKRs. More often than not, they have relied on spreadsheet and various fragmented tools to do so — an experience they have ultimately found frustrating.

In addition, since the SaaS model follows a well understood blueprint and is subject to identifiable changing trends, being in a position to preemptively spot likely challenges at each SaaS stage and being suggested potential solutions to overcome them give an incredible useful advantage to drive growth.

All in all, time well spent!