SaaStr Annual 2017': My notes

Last year I attended SaaStr annual and it was an amazing event. As I like to take a lot of notes, I shared those here on Medium. You can find it here: SaaStr 16 part 1, 2, 3. So, this year, I'm gonna try it again. These will be simples, rough notes, and everybody is invited to contribute, add comments and reframe it. If you're tuning in, feel free to tweet at me or leave a comment.

Other days notes:

Opening Remarks

  • 3rd edition (some meetups in 14') ;
  • 10k people attending, 46 countries;
  • 4 full time people on SaaStr team;
  • 30m views on Quora;
  • 1st day theme is Level Up;
  • 2nd day is Good Times 4ever;
  • 3rd day is Founder Power;
  • 47 folks coulg not come because of border rules — THIS IS NOT OK! All these people will be VIPs next year, on stage.

Welcome to SaaStr 17'- Scale Together!

When a Product Everyone Loves is Worth $450 Million

MICHAEL PRYOR CEO / TRELLO

Fogcreek started in 2000, back then there were no software companies in NY. Started doing a desktop CMS, that was a big failure. Fogbuzz was a bug tracking software that they built on the side. Trello started as a side project inside the company, using engineering team's spare time.

Early on, Joel Spolsky was a great writer and had a big audience, so the company never really developed a real marketing strategy.

Why did the business take off?

Being able to learn from mistakes in the past. After all, developers were still using post-it notes. On the other hand, they built a product not focused on developers, but on "normal" consumers. They focused on a visual tool, that people could use for planning weddings and other simple things. The simpleness of the post-it metaphor was great, people did not need to learn new concepts to start using it. Timing was also great, close to the iPhone launch, when communication and collaboration were exploding.

Funding

Trello was bootstrapped for 3 years. Decided to raise funding because 40% of Fogcreek was working on Trello, and they couldn't invest more. StackOverflow investors were interested and it was fast to get things done. Separating the companies was tough, but they got to learn more about that before, with the StackOverflow deal.

Freemium

First idea, pitched by Spolsky: 100m users, 1% paying 100 dollars a year. They didn't think anything about monetization in the first years. After Google shut down reader, people were starting to concern about using free products and getting abandoned. So they started the paid tier.

Now they're at 20m users. One key lesson is that companies that use Trello don't know how their hundreds of users manage hundreds of projects on it. This creates sort of easy deals, because you only need to get the company paying for something that they are already using. If you have adoption inside the company, it becomes easier to prove the value.

Localization

Trello is available in 20+ languages. One lessons is that if you translate your app, you're not immediately localized. You need to do marketing in the local markets as well. Not marketing in an individualized way for international is a mistake. Trello started internationalizing late, 1 year and a half ago. It was a company wide effort, and it was hard.

On the sale to Atlassian

Michael spent a lot of time reading Jason's tweet: "If you get to 20m in ARR, never sell." He asks: Jason, why did you say that?

Jason's answer: From a journey perspective, if you get to $20m ARR with happy customers (NPS: 50), you are unstoppable. You will get to $100m. It's inevitable.

Fun fact: Trello was almost named as 5camels, Caardvark, or Planity.

The Second Ten Years (at One of the Web’s Most Iconic Companies)

CHRIS O’NEILL CEO / EVERNOTE

10 years in…

The hard core techies, the knowledge workers, they all know the Evernote brand. They take 1b notes everyday. Looks like Evernote doesn't have brand awareness challenges today, the brand gap is that Evernote users needs to get know it as the thing that keeps the things stored on your mind, a part of your daily workflows.

How do i get a Google Exec to join my company?

Get a mission that matter. Chris is a productivity geek and he thought that the company was doing to much. He wanted to build a team that can grow with focus, 18 years ago. Google was in the 10’s of thousands of people, and Evernote is 330. The need to focus was clear.

Focusing & hiring

They had to triple down the product quality and focus. Only 3 company OKRs. Reassembling the management team was necessary. The characteristics Chris looks for are:

  • Clear strengths on what you want to get done;
  • Know what world-class for their domain expertise is;
  • Not the #1 expert, but the number #3–4 on that industry. Somebody that hasn't done it yet.

Pricing & Collaboration

Evernote costs $60–80 bucks/year. They're trying to move away from archiving only to workflow/collaboration tool. They're learning about team collaboration and trying to find how to get into that space. Evernote business is an early step in this direction, and it is showing good signs of success. They're trying to find the platform integrations that will move to the next level.

Technical/Design debt

The company started focused on the individual, now the debt is moving to teams. Quality was one of the first OKR's. Now they reduced crashes by 90%. They hired a new CTO and moved to Google Cloud in 80 days, which was pretty fast. The new ios app has 70% of the code rewritten.

Going Global

Chris came from Google, where Eric Schmidt at Google wanted every product to be localized in 90 days after launch. This made people fight for international. Evernote was global from the beginning, it is wired to the company’s DNA.

Evernote is currently big in Japan/China. Japanese people are inherently mobile first and organized, so it took off first in JP. For China they have a big commitment, separate brand, team and local partners.

Zen learning of taking over a company burning a lot of money and former unicorn

It takes courage, because press creates noise, and it is not easy. You need to make thought choices, specially on team building. Making the calls in a humanly way is important, because the transition needs to be careful.

Key lesson: Focus and discipline are essential. You can't have 5 things, you need to have 3 things only.

The Secrets of Net Negative Churn: Customer Advocacy

NICK MEHTA CEO / GAINSIGHT, CATHERINE BLACKMORE GVP CUSTOMER SUCCESS / ORACLE MARKETING CLOUD, MARIA PERGOLINO SENIOR VP MARKETING / APTTUS, EMILIA D’ANZICA VP CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT / WALKME

  • Oracle Marketing Cloud is a mix of 5 different companies. Take 5 different CSM's is a challenge;
  • Apptus uses marketing to create a big advocate group across the whole company;
  • Walkme can leave on any platform, so personalizing the experience and segmenting the CS team is a big challenge.

People

  • Oracle: Start your team building based on what you're trying to accomplish in the long term. Plugging 5 different companies needed to start with the Oracle's promise to the customer. When structuring the team, sometimes you need to focus on deep product knowledge, sometimes you need to focus on the overall business goals. The handoffs need to be simple and efficient so you don't have any repetition or disruption.
  • Apptus: The first hire on marketing was an advocate marketing manager. Pairing CSM's with marketing is core to helping the customers. The modern CMO cares about the whole customer journey. Apptus has 4 people in advocate marketing.
  • Walkme: Over the past 18months they made the CS team flat, organized in pods. Now professional services works together with CS, and their goals are tied. The customer management team handles all renewals, not sales.
  • There's not one simple/practical org chart one size fits all for CS;
  • Hire CSMs ahead of sales. Look for CSMs that help scaling the co-founders;
  • Don’t make customers happy, make them successful. Happiness is the byproduct of success.

Metrics

  • Segment customers data on areas of success. Adoption, Success, etc.;
  • You need to know what to measure so you can predict/explain success;
  • You also need to measure stuff that implicates in cancellations and downsells, so you can prevent those;
  • To measure Advocacy, measure how many customers are willing to speak up;

Key lessons:

  • Focus on outcomes, not ROI;
  • Fast growth means adjusting alignment with customers along the way. Make sure you communicate that well, customer success can really help with product market fit. The handoff of CSM migrations can be frustrating, so you need to get it right;
  • Create customer communication channels early on;
  • Understand and measure customer behavior and be proactive. Respond fast;
  • Companies think they need analytics and insights when it’s too late. Don’t wait.

Nutanix: Going from 0 to $4b

ARIF JANMOHAMED PARTNER, LIGHTSPEED VENTURE PARTNERS, SUDHEESH NAIR PRESIDENT, NUTANIX

Nutanix started out of a Starbucks shop, buying several coffee cups a day. On the early days, the entire company was into engineering, marketing, sales, everything.

Their inspiration came from Amazon Web Services. Their bet was that the customers that couldn't be hosted on AWS cloud should have a similar experience in their datacenters. They've been around for 21 quarters, and still growing 80%+ YoY. In the first 3 quarters alone they did close to 8m in sales.

The 3 gears of success. It's like driving a car

First gear: up to $10m ARR: Focus on product, people and process.

  • Product = They knew that being like amazon inside the datacenter was not easy or even fundable. They had to build a part of it, and focus on get revenues early. Product was 20% of what it could be, but that was enough to start. They found a use case that they solved 80% of the problems. That was the MVP.
  • People = Misfits. People that want to build skills and things that don’t exist.
  • Processes = Invested early on building a company for the future.

Second gear: Bring builders on!

  • Product = Continue to add new things to build the product to it’s full extend.
  • People = Can't continue to run on Misfits alone. Hire builders. People that make the customer become a reference.
  • Process: Invest in tools to scale deal intelligence. Give support for salespeople to succeed (software, SDR's, channels, whatever they need).

Third gear: $100m:

  • Move from builders to scalers. You need to learn from IBM and other big companies.
  • Make sure builders, misfits and scalers are working well together is a challenge, so you need to focus on communication.
  • You still need the first 2 to keep innovative/competitive;

Key lessons:

  • Sales is the most quantifiable job that exists;
  • Focus on elevating the lowest denominators;
  • When you build a model for sales quota, educate everybody;
  • Hold salespeople accountable and give them context;
  • Be humble to learn and find people that have the experience to be by your side;
  • After 5 years, you don't wanna hire anyone that is not better than you in at least one aspect.
  • The best people don't work for money, they want to build something big and be in a meritocracy works.

The CEO’s Role in Marketing: How to Hustle, Build Momentum, Sell Your Company — and Yourself

STACEY EPSTEIN CEO / ZINC, GREG SCHOTT CEO / MULESOFT, DAVID KELLOGG, CEO / HOST ANALYTICS, KATHRYN MINSHEW FOUNDER & CEO / THE MUSE

  • Marketing was critical to the Muse's success. Content was very effective since the early days, and publishing career content was the best way to generate initial demand.
  • Marketing is part of product market/fit. It is not an appendage, it is not just demand gen;
  • Marketing is a competence that you need to develop early. You can't wait.

Some CEOs are great marketers, others are more product focused. Where does the CEO fit?

  • The CEO needs to get involved on the overall positioning of the company. Positioning drives product direction as well.
  • Different segments need different CEO involvements. For The Muse, the CEO is not really involved in the B2C side of the business, but very focused on the B2B side;
  • Don't try to turn your introvert CEO into an artificial marketeer. Don't try to make them something they aren't. Some CEOs are fantastic on stage, and others are more backroom. Understand where you are and work with it. Not everybody is Benioff;
  • Some CEO's forget that marketing is about bringing the product to the customer's language, their words;
  • Be careful on PR agencies. Internal PR is often better than outsourcing it, especially for companies with complex stories. For industry specific PR, sometimes outsourcing is better, and that was the case with The Muse, in the HR industry;
  • PR is like a gym membership. Doesn't matter if you use it, they'll charge. So make use of it.
  • To start doing PR you need to have customers willing to talk to reporters. Don't start to early.
  • If you don't have someone in your company that understands PR, you're not gonna get much for you money. It is either hiring someone who understands PR internally or doing it yourself as the CEO;
  • If you have your CEO blog, write it yourself. Don't ghostwrite.
  • Make sure that as a CEO, when you produce content, you be genuine;
  • Getting external contributors for The Muse’s blog, worked well;
  • Figure out when a platform is gonna have an inflection point. Linkedin Influencer platform gives a great visibility to CEO's;
  • Marketing serves sales and every department should be focused on revenue. The marketing leadership needs to wake up thinking about how to bring revenue to the company. It is critical.
  • The number one cause of death for the CMO is the CRO. Marketing exists to make sales easier;

Build, Break, Stretch, Repeat: Lessons from Scaling Google & Stripe

CLAIRE HUGHES JOHNSON COO / STRIPE

Stripe is a set of developer tools to help companies bill customers easily. It is 600 people and Claire joined the company as COO 2 years ago, at 170 employees. She was previously at Google.

Why did you join?

On a personal side, she wanted a mission driven company. Stripe is about giving people economic access. She also loved the company culture and it's product/market fit.

How the company changed over time?

Not a lot. Organizational systems move from chaos to organization. The system might have changed, but the decision making criteria does not. What surprised Claire mostly was the complexity of the business.

Scaling is not necessarily hiring like crazy. A lot of her energy went to their go to market strategy. The brand was strong, and it was important to stay true to their developer community. The company started mostly as a self service company, but over time they did need to add more support to their users and get caught up with their inbound demand.

Hypergrowth

It is not easy to set quota and forecast in hyper growth, but they decided to hire people with a sales compensation plan performance based. This embedded the right mindset on the team. They had technical sales people and even a field engineering team, that was well versed on the Stripe product. Stripe was a lead rich environment, so marketing's job was figuring out how to work well with the startup ecosystem. Another challenge was to improve measurement and understand better those leads.

Leveling up

Early on the core team, the founders did the recruiting. As Stripe grew, they needed to build a recruiting organization. If you want to double your company in one year, you need full time recruiters. They needed to build a model where the hiring manager helped write new job descriptions, create new hiring process and then go find ideal profiles for each new role.

Look for people intrinsically motivated that care about the company's impact. Stripe tests for excitement and motivation on the hiring process and has the founders involved on the employee onboarding. Engagement is the key to retention.

International

Stripe aims to be global (25 countries now). Kickstarter moved to Stripe because they wanted to sell globally. The way to handle international expansion is hiring really, really well. The folks on the local market are your company there, so you need to be cautious. Also, you have to communicate well and know what's happening on external markets, so you can let them know what happens domestically. Keep the local people close, but also give them autonomy and a revenue commit.

What's next:

  • More markets;
  • Stripe is getting ready to launch strategic product changes for all their global users even faster;

— DAY 1 END! —

That's it for today. See you guys tomorrow!

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