SaaStr — lessons as an attendee, hustler and now a sponsor

On February 7, the SaaS equivalent of Fashion Week took over the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco.

SaaStr and Jason M. Lemkin, need no introduction, thanks to his blogs and popular Quora answers. He quite naturally draws SaaS audience from world over and we expected nothing less in 2017 as well.

A year ago, we were at SaaStr Annual as attendees and we managed to pull off our SaaS-y guerilla stunt that caught a few stares, a lot of smiles and drew attention to us.

$400 spent. 5000 views. Hustled our way to get attention.

Most importantly we met many folks who became our customers. And they have grown to the point, where they also sponsored along with us at SaaStr 2017.

This year, we elevated our relationship with SaaStr to become Gold Sponsors for the event that also brought 10k+ attendees, and has become a must-attend event in SaaS community. That says a lot of how far we have come together as partners.

While we were there, we observed and learnt a lot of lessons. Here are a few tips that might come in handy for your next big event:

1. Be interesting

Most of those attending conferences do not prefer being sold to as the first thing. They are looking for meaningful conversations. They may not know that a better way of doing things exist. Sometimes, it’s a challenge of problem awareness than solution awareness.

They are just curious about your product and about what you do. Let them know about the problem that your product/solution solves.

Our presentation and video spoke about a few businessmen and innovators building products, being bogged down by the nitty-gritties of invoicing and billing. It’s a different story that those businessmen were, well, the Musks and Einsteins of the world. But we will leave that story for another day.

2. Attendees aren’t out there looking for solutions

With Google Search, you can assume people have clear intent, looking for a solution.

Facebook isn’t about intent. It’s browsing.

All you have is a pre-qualified audience, all of whom belong to a tribe — SaaS.

If you get their attention and strike a conversation, you may get them interested in what you do. This approach has worked well for us last year, as an attendee and also this year, as a sponsor.

Instead of just standing at the exhibit, couple of folks started joining the interesting conversations at the corridor and found a few folks who genuinely were interested in our solution and set up a time for demo of our product.

Note: For a big conference like SaaStr, it is helpful to go as a team of four or more people. It allows more room for such activities and there is always so much more to do, leaving you short of energy.

3. Don’t be shy and hustle your way shamelessly

If you are going to be shy and stand in a corner, don’t go.

Most of the talks are available online.

If you are going to be at the event, don’t be shy, and don’t hesitate to strike a conversation. You have to hustle and have genuine curiosity to learn more about the people you meet.

Our customer, GetAccept, showed us how to hustle better.

We met the founders of the Nordic+Silicon Valley startup, a cloud-based electronic signature solution that lets you engage and close more deals with prospects, and a product of Y-Combinator.

They partnered with a former international hostage negotiator for the FBI with them, who engaged with you in a duel and got a very interesting conversation going on the art of negotiation.

Anyone who met GetAccept will remember them and they have a story to tell. They also distributed copies of Chris Voss’s book, Never Split the Difference.

Last year, they were part of YC, but this year they were one of the sponsors. After having started out with US and Sweden, they started expanding into Europe and having customers across 40 countries. They also are growing teams in Malmö and California.

But more than their growth, their quirky outfit choice — from tuxedo morphsuits in previous conferences, to these abstract collage suits — was the one that made the rounds :)

It was great to see many more customers along with GetAccept, at so many stages of growth, such as Freshdesk, Advocate.ly, and AskNicely. And boy, were they pleased with the feature releases! This taught us that Customer Satisfaction is the best form of validation, and being amongst such happy customers and showcasing our product, was a proud moment for us.

We also met our partners who grow with us, including Grow BI and Referral SaaSquatch.

Key take-away

During our SaaStr Annual visit last year, we picked up a lesson from Aaron Ross’s Predictable Revenue. Here’s what he had written -

Triple Down On What’s Working (Pick 1–2 Big Rocks): It takes a lot of focus and energy to start up a new initiative (and get results)… first triple down on whatever’s already working, before diluting or defocusing your energy. Or at least put 80% of your energy into expanding what’s working, and 20% in other investments that could pay off later. Is outbound cranking? Ignore inbound and double down for longer, until you see a real need to do otherwise! (And vice versa)

We took that lesson and doubled down on our effort to solve global expansion. A year ago, we set out to build features that will enable businesses to go global and delivered on that.

A key tenet to global expansion is localization i.e. allowing multiple payment methods and gateways, multiple currencies, multi-lingual support, calculating global taxes, and handling different accounting standards. At this year’s event, this messaging of our product resonated extremely well with the audience.

Should you attend SaaStr Annual again next year?

Has SaaStr Annual reached a tipping point? Not yet.

Has it become too big and sensational? Nope.

Is a good ROI guaranteed from SaaStr? Not unless you are looking to make meaningful and engaging conversations, be shameless in your outreach, and hustle your way through the conference.

One thing is for sure. If you are in SaaS, it’s a must attend event, to really get to see what’s happening out there with companies that are scaling really fast.

Build your network.

Build friendships with peers across borders.

And most importantly, challenge yourself to build a better business.

For us that’s what SaaStr is all about.