The 100 lessons from SaaStr 2018

I spent much of the past week in San Francisco at SaaStr conference. SaaStr has now established itself as the preeminent software-as-a-service conference attracting thousands of founders and their teams from all over the world. It’s a chance to take a break from the day to day insanity that is being a founder of an edtech startup to immerse yourself in learning. It’s an opportunity to learn big lessons from heroes (Mike of Atlassian, David Skok, Christoph and Tomasz) but also tactical lessons from those you didn’t yet know you should be in awe of (Therese of Blackline, Mathilde at Front and Jason of WPEngine)

It was my second time as an attendee and I decided to set a learning target; on day one I tweeted that I was on a mission to collect 100 actionable points to bring back to London and the rest of the team. Some tweeted back and said they would do the same.

Below is the list I came up with; it includes tidbits from the speakers on stage, investors I met for coffee and random snippets of conversations in the breakout areas.

1. A company is like a kid, you can’t leave it alone for a single second in case it sets the house on fire

2. A lost deal isn’t a lost opportunity

3. Act on imperfect information — it’s the best you have

4. Analyse churn by spotting patterns

5. Are you being true to your “true north”?

6. As a founder you need to be conscious of your stage and act accordingly

7. Ask all new customers “in 100 days how will we know if we were successful?”

8. Attitude and effort trump performance

9. Be a platform into which others want to integrate

10. Be a shepherd not a tyrant.

11. Be as narrow as possible in execution of your vision

12. Be big, be brave and most fast

13. Be generous with praise and the credit (don’t worry — you’ll still get kudos regardless)

14. Be sure to thank users and use that opportunity to enhance engagement

15. Be the editor not the writer

16. Beware the difference; Action oriented –v- results oriented

17. Bootstrapping forces you to get creative — it’s a gift

18. Bring a sense of boldness to everything you do

19. Cast wide but hyper target

20. Codifying core principals early means they get baked into the company’s DNA

21. Culture is the OS of your company — build it carefully

22. Customer success + product management = Why + what

23. Distinguish between low and high quality leads

24. Do you realise how you’re feeling — check yourself against the frog on the hotplate

25. Doing all the crappy work, to avoid your team doing it, leads to faster burnout. Be careful.

26. Don’t avoid doing what needs to be done

27. Don’t be “that guy” — humility pays

28. Don’t be too cheap — charge for stuff!

29. Don’t believe your own bull$hit

30. Don’t burn more cash than “you can afford”

31. Don’t force progress by jumping ahead of phase

32. Don’t grow till you’re ready

33. Don’t hold on (to anything) too long

34. Don’t postpone decisions you know you need to make

35. Educate customers into innovation

36. Engineering teams are either the brakes, or the accelerator, in your startups big goals

37. Establish yourself as the go to resource

38. Execute like everyone is out to get you. Cos they are

39. Experiment and iterate on pricing

40. fall in love with the problem not the solution

41. Feed the sales beast before hiring more

42. Feedback is a gift, whether you like it or not

43. Figure out your metrics

44. Find the early champions who will look the other way during bugs and chaos

45. Fire faster — you’ll never feel it was too early

46. Fix your funnel

47. Focus on getting customers

48. For every good meeting ask for two introductions.

49. Fulfilment as an entrepreneur is at least as important as ARR

50. Get the word out and become the go to resource for your niche

51. Go monthly on commission

52. Good foundations means micromanagement is dumb

53. Great teams are developed and nurtured not created

54. Growth investors are looking at proof that you have created a revenue machine

55. Have friends that will keep encouraging you when you are ready to quit

56. Hire from the top down

57. How does a 1 point bump in NPS impact on metrics?

58. Humility will mean you seek help from everyone

59. If it was easy, everyone would do it

60. If it’s not repeatable and scaleable you aren’t there yet

61. If sales isn’t a revenue centre you’re doing it wrong

62. If they haven’t done it, they don’t get it. Don’t let others get your down

63. If you are going to make a decision, make it with conviction.

64. If you need to eat shit don’t nibble

65. If your company isn’t diverse you can’t service a diverse client base

66. It’s ok not to be balanced — sometimes its all about sales, sometimes product. It should even out in the end

67. Make sure every email is a touchpoint with clients — don’t waste the opportunity

68. More people doesn’t always mean more revenue

69. Not all virility is created equal

70. NPS is super powerful, but only if you analyse the results and take appropriate action

71. NPS isn’t everything but it’s close

72. On-boarding is an investment

73. PE is an exit not a raise

74. PMF is when all metrics go mental.

75. Provide tactical guidance to demonstrate that you understand the daily grind your customers have

76. Recruit people that add spice and flavour — too many “like me” is vanilla — you want rocky road

77. Remember culture, culture, culture

78. Remember to look after yourself and your mental health

79. Score leads and keep a close eye

80. Shorten the time to WOW

81. Startups are like people with a unique DNA

82. Strong mental health is key for founders

83. The best ideas are those others have overlooked cos they aren’t “sexy”

84. The best ideas rarely come from the top — remember who invented the big mac!

85. The you you are, and need to be, as a founder, will change at each stage

86. There is a difference between evangelists and mercenaries

87. There is a point at which you become the coach and the visionary not the operator

88. There is a time for generalists and a time for experts

89. There’s more than one way to the top

90. Think in parallel

91. Those who’ve seen it before may well move faster. Be picky who you hire when

92. Turn your product into your “sales person”

93. Watch what clients do not what they say

94. What you can’t measure you can’t improve

95. Whatever you do — have referrals

96. When hiring at early stages rockstars will be too expensive and they won’t come to you

97. Whispers are just that

98. Work to 80:20 — focus on the stuff that will make the most difference

99. Worry more about being on the right bus than in a perfect seat; is a great way to judge “cultural alignment” when hiring

100. Write your own story

101. You’re dead if you run out of cash

Congrats to Jason and his team on a great event and look forward to seeing you next year!

What did you learn worthy of sharing? Add below