The SaaS Playbook

It’s hard to find great B2B SaaS content. We make it easier with The SaaS Playbook – curated tactics, best practices, and thought leadership from top B2B SaaS operators around the world.

Weighing Growth vs. Profitability; First-time founder growing pains; How to show validation when you lack data...

September 17, 2021

🌠 Perhaps an unpopular opinion (with founders at least), but they rarely start out as good leaders. It’s no fault of their own, it just usually takes time for them to acclimate to the task of leading others while also getting their day to day needs accomplished. The curve can be steep – the atmosphere surrounding software is of course quick in nature and constantly evolving, so the time it takes to evolve into leadership is often not given to the founder. That said, startups which take a more moderate approach to growth typically allow time for founders to find their way and grow in leadership, opposed to fast growth companies where the founder has to learn quickly.

🧻 Storytelling is one of the hardest tasks for first founders because they often don’t have the data or work experience to build their story. Liran Belenzon shared a great story of how he got creative when faced with that exact problem. He needed to raise a bit of capital when pursuing his first venture, but their product was not at a point where it would have won customers over, which they needed to get investors excited. To show traction, he had a freelance designer build a paper prototype which demonstrated how the fully built tool would function to customers. The idea on its own was enough to sign up 200 prospect for their MVP, which was instrumental in showing traction to investors in the fundraising process.

🎼 Businesses’ software stacks are getting crowded. On average, companies have 37 different software vendors at one time, and we bet it’s even higher for SaaS companies. The question is, do all of these tools really improve workflow and productivity, or are we overloaded? OMERS Ventures thinks poor communications between tools is the biggest issue with our ever increasing software stack, and a new breed of data orchestration software, which help these products seamlessly integrate with other apps, is the likely solution. API-first players like Zapier, Plaid, and Stripe have already made significant progress in addressing the needs of SMB and mid-market companies, but public APIs and API solution providers have a ways to go, as they struggle to match the speed of smaller, agile businesses.

☁️ VCs look for immediate and extreme growth in their investments, so the profitability of the companies they work with is the least of their concerns. But striving for sky high growth can be costly, and not just in dollars. Dumping loads of capital into marketing makes it nearly impossible to identify your real cost to acquire customers (CAC), and if your CAC remains high over time, you run the risk of never being able to build a sustainable model. There are, however, some notable software businesses who have taken the road less traveled, achieving profitability while also growing to an impressive scale. Both profitable and high burn companies can generate great returns for investors, we would just argue that the profitable ones also create good outcomes for founders!

🪓 Getting content right is time consuming, but if you want to maximize the channel, there’s no way around dedicating real resources to it. When looking at content ROI, you measure the cost to produce your content and the resulting engagement and conversions over time. It can take a while to generate returns from one piece, so an efficient way to improve your ROI is in the short term is by content splintering – creating similar content focused on the original topic with tweaks that make it unique, and publishing it across separate channels. Aside from being a money and time saver, splintering enables companies to test new channels because few resources are needed to adapt your existing content to whatever new channel or platform you are testing.

👓 The Wall Street Journal’s legendary “Tale of Two Young Men'' letter tells the story of two men with similar backgrounds who work at the same manufacturing business. 25 years down the line one man is in the same role and the other is president of the business, the only difference being that the president educated himself by reading the WSJ. That story, which resulted in over $2B in subscriptions during a ~30 year period, follows a clear “two path” storytelling framework which can be applied to pretty much any SaaS business. While it has lost some of its novelty through gained popularity, it’s a good framework to use in messaging where you are looking to demonstrate how you beat the competition without boasting.


🌾 Most B2B SaaS companies start with a low touch sales model before building an SDR team and moving upmarket because low touch also generally means lower cost. Marc Thomas from PoweredbySearch went against the grain and started with a direct sales model before moving down market to build a B2B SaaS demand gen flywheel. He shared a template for building that model which stemmed from his learnings, from positioning to website structuring, and also has a separate piece with some additional notes on the principles discussed in the model which is a good supplementary read if you enjoy the first!

⚖️ Early stage SaaS investor Kenn So penned a great essay on why investors continue to bid up startups prices, even though they would admit they are overvalued. It starts with a simple supply and demand equation. With only ¼ of the number startups being created today as there was in 2010 (see below), and a 380% increase in the amount of VC raised since that same year, there is high investor demand for a small supply of investable startups (you have to deploy to stay in business, after all). And while the amount of startups exiting has decreased 5% over that period, the amount of money exits are generating has grown significantly, justifying VCs to bid further. One notable difference from the early 2000s to today – 80% of startups are burning cash at the point of IPO, while not growing much faster than the more capital efficient cohorts of earlier years, a pretty eye opening stat.

🌎 TAM (total addressable market), SAM (serviceable available market), and SOM (serviceable obtainable market) are the typical tiers used to demonstrate what a company’s market could be. But none of them focus on the near future of your company – TAM’s are generally represented as $1b+, which isn’t going happen in the short term. That’s why Fairbanks Venture Advisors suggests early stage founders think about their Launch Available Market, or LAM, to map out and show investors who your initial targets are going to be. LAM is calculated by estimating conversion rates of your acquisition activities (or using the real rates if you have the data) then applying your ARPU, and other bottom-up approach assumptions that show you are accounting for all variables.

🍲 We are going to stick with the topic of consumption based pricing (and food emojis) with this piece from our friends at Chargify, which shows how the pricing model isn’t just good for your NDR – it can actually be a driver of product adoption. First, it lets users try out your product with a lower cost upfront, so your conversion rates should go up givven that the pricing model is more customer-friendly than inflexible flat rates. It also should reduce churn because your customers only pay for exactly what they need and seamlessly upgrade as they increase usage, units, or whatever variable you base your pricing on. This is much smoother than forcing customers to increase a maxed out subscription mid month (a useless point of friction).

🥣 At Gainsight’s Pulse 2021 conference, SaaS advisor and consultant Dave Kellog took the stage to share net dollar retention (NDR) benchmarks and evolving trends in software metrics. Median NDR for private companies is up to 104% and the public SaaS median is 111% – both growing numbers due to NDR’s increasing impact on valuation (churn is a dead metric) and more companies adopting usage models which are ideal for growing contract value over time. He is also covers issues with the life time value (LTV) metric stemming from low or negative churn rates – for example, a 3 year old company with very little churn could show a 20 year LTV, when in reality there isn’t enough data to prove that. The full slides are available here.

💭 “Write poorly and they notice the style; write well and they notice the idea”. That message on the importance of clear writing is taught to all Amazon employees, along with the idea to not write to impress others, but to express ideas. This list from Ex- AWS product manager, Danny Sheridan, covers 5 tips from Amazon’s Doc Bar Raisers (employees who participate in the final round of new hire interviews) on how to write clearly. One suggestion is to write in rhythm – varying word count and sentence length to hold the reader's attention – in particular is an easy change to make that can drastically improve your writing today.

🥤 One of the often misunderstood aspects of term sheets is liquidation preferences. These preferences give VCs the right to receive the funds they have invested before any common shareholders, such as founders, if a liquidation event occurs. That doesn’t just mean in the case of bankruptcy or winding down your company – any sort of transaction in which there is a change of control is considered a liquidation event. This read covers the differences between non-participating prefs (VCs get a multiple of the funds they invested OR a percentage of the stake they have in the company, assuming the shares convert to equity), participating prefs (VCs get both a multiple of their investment and a percentage of the investment made), and other key terms to know.

🧛 When trying to hire top talent, it’s very unlikely that you are going to be able to outpay the likes of Facebook, Amazon, Google etc.. But that doesn’t mean you can’t steal some all stars from the jaws of FAANG, it just means that you need to be more creative on how you present the opportunity to work at your startup. The area which big tech companies will never be able to compete with more agile startups is impact – rather being a cog in a massive machine, they can be on the ground floor of building a team where their footprint will be seen. Of course, that pitch will fall short on those who are looking for a more stable option and big company perks. But, if done right, it should at least make them think twice...

🏆 For pre-revenue startups, your initial outbound strategy is used to get product feedback rather than actually close deals – you have to make sure potential customers are actually picking up what you're putting down before executing on your initial thesis. Liam Mulcah (Director of Sales @ Unusual Ventures) has an unconventional way of segmenting potential customers, breaking them down into 3 buckets (startups, challengers, and champions) which can help you understand what they are prioritizing at their current stage, and hopefully enable you to better sell to them. He includes an example of a 14 day, 7 touchpoint outreach sequence which some of their companies have used for both LinkedIn and Email, as well as a sales outreach calculator so you can play with levers to see what sort of metrics you need to hit your goals.

📈 Public SaaS company multiples continued to roar in Q2 2021 (at the lower end you are seeing 4-5x revenue multiples for ~10% annual growers, which feels beyond generous!), but the question we are all wondering is what impact that has on the private sector. SaaS Capital’s data shows that while there has been an uptick in private company multiples, the premiums are being mostly seen in growth stage businesses who are up ~50%+ year over year. Our thought: buyers are likely looking for more growth from small startups than the bigger players because they just don’t have the scale (and stability) of public entities, which presents more risk.


🏃 People often refer to raising venture capital as “jumping on the VC treadmill” because once you get on it, it’s very hard to get off. Astronomical growth targets require founders to spend all of the funds they raise quickly, putting them in an all out sprint to gain traction so they can raise their next round. David Sacks’ recent post on venture backed SaaS Org Charts gives a flavor of just how fast these companies need to scale their teams to have a shot at hitting those growth goals, explaining that Series A startups typically have at least 1m in ARR with roughly 40-50 employees, while Series B companies are looking to have at least 5m in ARR and 100-125 employees. That massive jump in headcount puts businesses in a scary position, because if they don’t raise that next round, there are significant cuts required to reach profitability, and ultimately, survive.

🎶 Tools like Gong and Chorus.ai get most of the love when it comes to sales enablement, but conversational intelligence is just one small piece of the sales enablement puzzle. Ben Cotton does a good job of breaking down the different categories within the space, as well as some of the top vendors which might not have heard of. Sales coaching software, which provides more detail on recommendations and which reps might be best suited for different parts of the sales process, is an area in particular which we think has a lot of potential.

🧶 Bessemer Venture Partners hosted a B2B SaaS pricing roundtable last month with some notable industry experts: Lekha Doshi (LinkedIn), Akshat Gupta (Airtable), and Ross Biestman (ServiceTitan). They called out some common pricing mistakes, the first being indecisiveness with your model. Lots of groups set up with a “just for now plan” and never end up revisiting, as “nothing is as permanent as a temporary fix”. This is especially true with pricing, where it can become incredibly difficult to untangle your model as you become more reliant on those processes. Another frequent mistake is not defining specific goals around pricing. You need to create a few hypotheses where changing a variable will result in better take up from the market, then run with it!

🦁 Drift is known for its early product lead growth strategy, in which their users’ chat boxes were the leading source of customer acquisition for the business. It created a great flywheel effect – new customers meant more Drift branded chat boxes on their websites, with each website’s visitors being subjected to the brand, creating new sets of customers. But recently, they have gracefully pivoted more towards the enterprise, with their average sales price tripling from Q4 2020 to Q1 2021. Elias Torres, the co-founder of Drift, explains that the desire for better retention rates and a higher ARPU prompted the shift, as well as the specifics of how they made the switch.

🔔 The Bell Curve marketing agency, (who also the Demand Curve marketing group), have written loads of websites in their day, and knows what kind of content it takes to convert visitors into customers. In a recent TechCrunch feature, they highlight a few ways you can improve the conversion rate on your homepage by crafting a sharp header and designing with intention. They provide a pretty cool framework to uncover your value proposition which you can use as a header – you start by describing a bad alternative people resort to when they don’t have your product, then follow up with a sentence describing why your product is better than that bad alternative. Lastly, you turn it into an action statement. Using AirBnb as an example, their bad alternative is “stuck in sterile hotels, don’t experience the real culture”, with “stay in locals’ homes” as the good one. Making that an action statement looks like “experience new cities like a local”. Voila.

🍩 Product management careers get treated differently than engineering, design, and most other tech careers in that there isn’t a point where you can comfortably stay an individual contributor – the idea is to move up in your rank, or move out. There seems to be a much lesser focus on the PRODUCT part than MANAGEMENT in product management, which is why Ken Norton (previously Director of Product for Google), argues that we need to fight for  a dual product management career path. What he means by this is a role where you manage the product resources for a project rather than a full division, because the reality is that not all people are suited to (or even interested in) being leadership. This non-management role can be key to innovation for big companies as well, because it enables the employee to be an individualistic thinker and avoid the sometimes cumbersome process and structure you find in big co’s.

🚘 The subscription economy was already in full swing before COVID kicked it into overdrive, putting customer retention at the forefront of many people’s minds. It makes Retention Point, by Robert Skrob, a timely read, as it hammers the idea home that maintaining your existing customers and promoting their growth should always take a front seat to new customer acquisition. He poses some interesting points, like the idea that many companies try to deliver too much value upfront, which can hurt more than help with adoption. Having a limited set of resources available to them that are specific to their goals (asking what those are upon signup helps) will keep them on the tracks and prevent them from getting overwhelmed.

🍜 We consistently beat the drum for pricing as one of the biggest levers your company has to pull around revenue, but it’s rare to find good writing on the specific tactics you can experiment with. Stripe’s Growth lead Julian Lehr laid out more than a few pricing strategies which are worth noodling over, starting with the basic idea that founders can likely charge more than they think. He also covers some great examples of “the illusion of choice”, in which companies provide one pricing package that clearly makes the most sense for the user – as well as themselves – which the visitor is funneled towards. This usually includes some social validation (like highlighting the price point as the most popular choice) and a direct comparison to other plans to show how much users are saving. 


🛣️ The startup journey can be a long and lonely road, which is why it’s no surprise that many people elect to work with a co-founder. This is a person who you will be spending the majority of your day with for a (hopefully!) very long time, so conflict is inevitable and natural in many cases. That said, you should still rigorously vet your potential co-founders and ask the tough questions early on to make sure you are really compatible. This list from Philip Camilleri outlines some of the important areas you can dig into, such as how they handle conflict resolution, decision making, stress, and financial goals. A surprising number of co-founders kick these conversations down the road, but you will do yourself a favor by understanding where they land on these points upfront.

✍️ It doesn’t always take a 400 page marketing book to improve your game, sometimes a simple thought can help you reset and make you think twice about what you are doing, or what you could potentially do! This was a fun list of one sentence marketing tips which we liked, and hopefully can have provide a jolt of inspiration for you or your team. Some of our favorites included “you can buy exposure, but you can’t buy attention” (big ad budgets aren’t enough!) and “the more your marketing sounds like marketing, the worse it will perform”. Using simple language and writing as you actually speak always wins.

🩺 ARX (one of the first electronic signature businesses) isn’t a classic success story – only four years after being acquired for 100m, their buyer, Cylink, was ready to pull the plug on them. ARX’s team rallied to buy the business back, using a hefty amount of debt which they were able to pay off in a few years, setting them up for a fresh start. Boaz Lantsman, who joined their team after ARX regained control, explained how they turned the business around by conquering one niche at a time. The niche that really set them off was clinical trials, a category which a few of their existing customers already fell into. Realizing that electronic signatures could save clinics significant dollars, they poured half their budget into that target market. The end result – another nearly 100m acquisition, this time from DocuSign.

🥐 In David Bradford and Carole Robin’s Connect, the two Stanford professors cover what they call “exceptional relationships”, in which you feel free to be your sincere self around another person. It’s an interesting topic relative to business because in most cases, we are more guarded with work relationships than personal ones. To gain more sincere relationships, they suggest trying the 15% rule, where you attempt to share 15% more than you feel is “safe” with others. That tiny bit of additional sharing can help you be seen as more human, and sets a norm that encourages your team to do the same. They also share the importance of quality feedback to relationships, and caution to not get caught serving “feedback sandwiches”. These not so tasty morsels start with positive feedback, followed by the real feedback you wanted to give, and end on another positive note as to not be too harsh. The book is a culmination of their interpersonal communications grad teachings, and serves as a much quicker (and less expensive) course!

📹 B2B buyers are typically 57% along the way to a buying decision before they talk with sales (via CEB Global), so your website might actually play a bigger role in selling than your team. Hubspot highlighted some good B2B product sites for your inspiration, and explained why they do a good job of selling. Cringey video edits aside, there are some helpful nuggets of wisdom – we liked the suggestion of only using 5 colors and 3 typefaces / font sizes on your site to prevent visitors from getting overwhelmed, as well as only using graphics in areas where you need to encourage visitors to complete a task or function (i.e. they need real purpose). They also give praise to sites which use their homepage to filter buyers by persona, then lead to verticalized landing pages with use case specific content. Verticalized segmentation is not newsworthy, but very intentionally guiding visitors right from the start of your site can be incredibly impactful and is rarely implemented.

🧃 Account based marketing (ABM) is a targeted effort in that it aims at a select group of high priority accounts rather than casting a wide net which catches leads of all shapes and sizes, many of which won’t be good fits. But there’s an even more specific approach you can be using for ABM – a tiered approach. It divides ABM targets into three categories: Strategic, Lite, and Programmatic, then outlines the specific tasks you should use based on the target’s tier. For example, it could be worth your while to roll out the red carpet for strategic accounts and create personalized ads specific to their business, but for a programmatic account that seems like a good customer but has limited upside, the juice might not be worth the squeeze.

🦙 As we have delved into before, there is risk in both over measuring and under measuring your business – you don’t want to get too granular and lose sight of your north star goal, but you of course don’t want to under report and misunderstand the variables which are impacting your business. This same problem exists with investors and the data they require their investments to provide them. Alpaca VC’s approach seems like a good middle ground, establishing 4-5 OKRs (objectives and key results) at their point of investment, which are separate but aligned with what the company already tracks. They then revisit these OKRs at the end of every quarter and rank performance on a 1 - 5 scale, writing out a summary of what led the company to hit or miss goals. It feels like the right level of involvement for groups who are not working with you in day to day operations but are invested in your success.

💃 Inbound acquisition interest can be both incredibly exciting and distracting for founders. It often prompts an internal debate of whether you should do the song and dance to figure out if it’s the right time to exit, or if you should just keep your head down and scale as you have been. Storm Ventures had some great advice on how to deal with inbound, and the differences in interest from public companies, PE funds, or private strategics. Even if selling isn’t something you are considering in the near future, it’s generally worth taking these calls because at some point, you likely will be. Plus, having conversations early will show you what about your business excites buyers (so you can double down there) and also provides invaluable experience in dealing with groups similar to (or who could even end up being) your buyer.

🏎️ We are all for short podcasts that can be knocked out on the drive to work, so Stephen Cummins’s 14 Minutes of SaaS has been one of our recent favorites. In his latest episode, he talks with Trustpilot CEO Peter Mühlmann, who discusses how your market is most important to success, followed by your team and your actual product. He also argues that most startups take 10 years to succeed, rather than the overnight success story we often hear of the hyper-growers. It can take 2-3 years to even figure out if you are right about your product and that it truly works as intended, so he urges founders to be more patient with their idea. In a world where we are encouraged to pivot quickly and “move fast and break things”, that can be a difficult balance to strike.

🎤 Whether you are a CEO pitching to potential investors or an employee presenting a project to your team, your ability to persuade is almost as important as the content you are sharing. We liked Jessica Stillman’s frameworks for giving 10 - 20 - 30 presentations, which provides a quick guide for powerful, persuasive presentations. The high level format is to use no more than 10 slides, take no more than 20 minutes to present (TED talks are all 20 minutes for a reason!), and use a 30 point font to ensure you are just highlighting the ideas on your slides rather than spelling them all out word for word. While your actual idea will ultimately be what makes or breaks the presentation, this format should put you in a good position to succeed.

⚔️ While the big player’s in your space can seem insurmountable, remember that there are advantages to being smaller, leaner, and scrappier. The Goliaths are generally comfortable in their position, and don’t want to take unnecessary risks that could alter their cushy state. This gives way for smaller up and comers to be more disruptive, and try things that more established groups wouldn’t even consider doing while also having the ability to iterate quickly (big ships move slow). That said, you may not want to come at the competition with a full on assault, as that can spur them to be more proactive in blocking your path. So angling for a slightly different market may be a safer place to start.

🕹️ If you use the CRM, Pipedrive, you are familiar with the fun animations that pop up whenever a deal is moved to “Closed/Won”. For the last decade, that sort of gamification has been one of the most popular strategies to drive user adoption. But we now have better ways to measure the success of gamification than we did 10 years ago, and the data shows how it can actually cause more damage than good. The linked article shares a story of a sales team which used a basketball themed game that awarded closed deals with “layups”. Those who bought into the game performed well, but those who didn’t actually declined in output. The key was that these employees felt the game was being forced upon them, so when considering gamification in your product, make sure you aren’t enforcing actions to the extent that it brings users out of the game.

🤑 We have a SaaS unicorn stampede on our hands this year, with 22 new ones popping up in February 2021 alone (Tiger Global is almost comically a lead investor in 20% of the 22...). So how is that even possible? Well, the SaaS market’s explosion has led to more $100m ARR+ companies growing at or above 30%, which seems to just about get you to a $1b valuation. And the math continues to work out for VCs – the average public SaaS company is worth $27b, and even companies with sub 30b market caps are worth ~10b on average. That means investors can get in at $1b valuations and still see 10x returns from later stage investments. Expect to see more investors “playing the long game” by investing in these larger, more mature businesses.

🧬 Operating software products is closer to a science than an art. Today, companies track and analyze their product data meticulously, with a proven book of formulas to guide their decision making. In Jacco Van Der Kooj’s The SaaS Sales Method, he explains why SaaS sales should be no different, and offers some literal blueprints for scaling out your sales function. There is a great outline of the SaaS methodology  Van Der Kooj covers in the book on his sales consulting site, Winning by Design, for those looking for a quicker read.

🧐 The Product Coalition group had an interesting write up on why you should separate problems and solutions in your roadmaps. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but meshing problems with solutions right off the bat assumes the next feature you build will solve your current problem. In reality, the best way to solve your problem might not be a new feature – it could be a change to an existing one or even deleting one altogether. Building a problem focused roadmap, where each of your teams works on a specific problem (manifested in the form on an OKR), and dedicating significant time to uncover and validate the problems which exist, is their suggested solution.

🏭 The Net Promoter Score (NPS) method for measuring customer satisfaction certainly has its flaws, but it’s hard to argue that a high NPS isn’t reflective of a well engineered product and support team. Entytle, a CRM for industrial OEMs, shared some tips on how they were able to get their score up to a 61 (stellar in NPS terms) during the middle of a pandemic. They emphasize delivering value quickly, which can be pretty hard for enterprise products with longer implementation times such as themselves. Their team cleverly battles this by giving users easy wins during onboarding, like teasers showing what a fully ramped up user looks like to build excitement, and keeping initial onboarding sessions light so they don't overwhelm.

🌡️ Powerful business narratives don’t just make the listener excited, they make you think. Eric Feng, Facebook’s VP of Commerce Innovations, shared how the best business stories can be broken down into 3 parts: framing (describing the business in a natural, almost obvious way), proximity (why the founder has a unique relationship with the problem they solve), and relatability (making it relevant). A great example he points to is home automation tool Nest. Their mission was to ”reinvent unloved home products to create simple, beautiful, thoughtful things”, a fantastic message because the framing makes their solution seem inevitable. Turns out it was, considering they got acquired by Google for 3.2b.

🦄 There’s been lots of analysis around what VC backed unicorns have in common, but not enough on startups that took venture but failed to take off. After all, you need a control group to help put those unicorn numbers in context. That’s what Ali Tamaseb (a partner at DCVC) spent the last couple years doing, gathering over 30k data points to see what truly separated big winners from the rest of the pack. He debunks some myths with his analysis, including that unicorns need to be led by technical founders (50.5% of unicorn founders were non-technical, similar to the control group) as well as the idea that unicorns should target whitespace opportunities (85% of unicorns had competition from Day 1).


🎢 Leadership is always encouraged to just slow down and think strategically, making it sound like there is a one size fits all method to problem solving. But different approaches will work best based on the information available to you – author Fred Perlard runs through four key ones and when to use them in his How to Be Strategic. The final method he covers, the Rollercoaster approach, is probably most interesting to the scaling startups crowd as it’s built for problem solving when there is no clear answer to start and little data available. Sound like a familiar situation to anyone?

🛫 In case there was still a debate, “build it and they will come” is simply a fallacy, it’s sales which fuels businesses to gain their first customers, take off, and grow. It took Cofebe’s founder James Williams little time to realize the importance of being able to sell, but a while to figure out how to build a systematic, methodical approach to doing it. He shares great advice around combatting customer expectations of lower prices by strengthening your offering’s positioning, as well as the value in a paid mentor when it comes to selling.

❄️ While recent IPO success Snowflake could never have got to where they are today without their data warehousing architect founders, it was CEO Frank Slootman who guided them through their periods of most rapid growth. When it comes to hiring, Slootman feels that “average is worse than bad”, meaning that bad hires are a lesser issue for companies because they are obvious to identify and move on from. Average hires, however, who are just there to check the boxes are more deadly because they can fly under the radar and drag others down. This philosophy is reflected in their bonus policy, in which managers must use a bell shaped distribution model, rewarding top performers highly while underperformers miss out.

🦶 Partnerships with big players in your sector can be a great growth catalyst – you ideally gain access to a larger customer list that fits your target audience perfectly without any upfront cost. But just because the potential benefits of partnership are fantastic doesn’t mean that you should do whatever it takes to land a deal with one of the big guys. Operators often make drastic compromises to get their foot in the door, whether it’s a burdensome product integration, alteration to their messaging, or another operational change. It can be hard to see that when the other side is more established and are seen as the experts in the room, but remember that doesn’t mean that their view is necessarily right!

🥡 Investors and acquirers are showing an increasing openness to software consumption based revenues, as many of them view it no different than vanilla ARR as long as it comes with a positive net retention rate (NRR). A great example of a high consumption revenue winner is Bill.com – they have 50% standard software revenues and 50% based on the fees processed through their platform. Their ridiculous 121% NRR proves that the consumption revenues are not just recurring, but that they increase over time (it’s even more impressive that they do it serving SMBs). This is to say, don’t let the idea of “non-SaaS” recurring revenues scare you from testing a partially consumption model where you win when your customers win.


🤖 The world of recruitment has evolved significantly in the past 10 years, making many of the popular reads on hiring fairly dated. Katrina Collier’s The Robot Proof Recruiter is a more modern take on hiring, focusing on how to utilize AI, robotics, and chatbots in order to attract and recruit the right people. Collier is quick to note that social media and digital strategies are still only a part of the full recruitment cycle, and shares how you can supplement these techniques with more personal, authentic methods that show candidates how your company goes above and beyond.


🍯 Billing platform Chargebee studied ~6,500 SaaS businesses to see what trends they could identify, and came away with some helpful findings. Most interesting was that companies who localized their pricing cosmetically (automatically converting currency to a visitor’s country) grew 40% faster than companies that did not, and those who localized by market (actually setting the price point relative to a specific market) grew twice as fast. They note that pricing localization should not be a priority until you hit $5m ARR, but at that scale it warrants the time to identify your top 10 markets and see what leverage your pricing can provide.

🤔 Product-led growth (PLG) puts product at the forefront of landing new users and getting them to use your product, but the truth is the path to users adopting is never just between your product and them. We like to look for advice, whether it is from our colleagues, friends, or random Quora thread, which is why the idea of community-led growth resonated with us. It acts as a multiplier on top of PLG by facilitating interactions amongst your users, which provides value beyond the product itself. The linked article from Corinne Marie Riley covers the main channels you should be looking at for (dare we say) CLG, as well as a Playbook on how to get started.

🇪🇺 With more companies open to remote work in today’s world, is a European HQ still worth pursuing? The team at B2B venture firm Front Line would tell you it absolutely does. You need to be where your customers are, so while it might not make sense for early stage companies with primarily US users, it’s essential if you ever plan on expanding internationally. They share a fun cheat sheet covering the 5 most popular EU tech hubs (London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Paris, and Berlin) and their relative strengths and weaknesses (talent, taxes, real estate, etc). On the road to IPO, about 30% of your revenue should come from the EU, so for those who think big, it’s worth playing with the idea as you grow.


🍿 It took popup startup WisePops 5 arduous years to get to $1m ARR, which they impressively did as a side hustle and without an in-house development team. That encouraged founder Benjamin Cahen to make the leap of building their own dev team, ultimately propelling them to $2m ARR in just half the time. Of course it’s never as simple as just adding new faces to the team to grow revenue, as hiring for small bootstrapped startups is tough. They added 6 employees during that period and let 4 go – costly when you consider the effort it takes to hire. Hunting for experts who weren’t even on the market and inviting them to team sessions pre-hire was how they landed their best talent, as it gave candidates a real sense of the team and workplace dynamics.

📊 If you work in SaaS you have probably come across ChartMogul at some point, most likely when looking up the right way to calculate net retention or another SaaS metric. That’s because they invested heavily in content since their inception 5 years ago, becoming a go-to thought leader in the space without spending a dime. Their CEO Nick Franklin shared how that content strategy got things going when they lacked funds for other activities, and other growth tips for bootstrapped businesses. He also delves into a dilemma many serving the SMB face – churn from customers going out of business. For Nick, slowly moving upmarket where more upsell potential lies is 100% of his current focus.

🦖 Strategic pricing can give you an edge in competitive markets, but at some point undercutting becomes predatory – companies who are able to bite the bullet on initial losses can price at big discounts, forcing others out of the market. Once the competition is gone, they go right back to original pricing. You rarely see SaaS businesses affected by this dynamic because the cost to service software is so low, but you do see many companies racing to the bottom in an attempt to win on price alone. Our take – buyers who prioritize pricing above all else are the most fickle, and pricing based on the value your product offers will lead to more enduring customers.

🔔 When founders start to build their sales team, the biggest hurdle is often not knowing how to properly incentive reps. David Sacks broke down some simple math on how you can set your team up, along with the key elements per position and standard rates of you will find today. It has a great chart of the average base salary and quota by territory (for example, SMB vs mid-market or Enterprise) and what expected OTE should look like. It also answers some of the heavily debated sales structure questions, like if reps should get credit for expansions (he suggests giving expansion credit during the customer’s first year) and renewals (should also get credit here, at a much lower rate).


🤝 A great piece of networking advice is to be human to everyone you meet. It’s the mantra First Round Capital partner Chris Falic has used to build relationships over time, and has led him to investments in Warby Parker, HotelTonight, and Roblox. He went into the specific strategies he uses to employ this idea of being human in a recent blog, boiling things down to 7 rules for making memorable connections. One interesting rule – what Falic calls the Blue-sky brainstorm. If you can’t offer specifically what a connection is looking for, try brainstorming with them as it shows a real effort to try to help out.

⚔️ A VC firm will often invest in similar companies to increase their chances of landing the big winner in the space. From a founder’s perspective, that can be pretty nerve racking. Having two or more companies in the same market enables VCs to share confidential info across companies, decide who they like best, and potentially sabotage the weaker link. The satirical Let Me Know How I Can Be Helpful crew (great Twitter follow if you aren’t already) shared how investing in competitors created a conflict of interest for Sequoia, and led to them giving one of the two 21m for free.

🧘 If you ever find the work to do list pilling up and are looking for ways to rein things in, we highly suggest Cal Newport’s Deep Work. The truth is distractions are inevitable, so training your mind to ignore distractions as opposed to cutting them off at the source is a more realistic approach to improving your focus. The book shares 4 rules for shifting your mind and habits to support that skill, most of which rely on creating routines and rituals that provide structure to your work environment. Training your focus is like training for any sport – it takes practice – so trusting the process is as important as anything else.

💓 Tracking SaaS metrics without knowing how to communicate the story they tell is what we like to call measurement without meaning. This read from Kimchi Hill offers a storytelling framework that starts with questions that will help shape the story around your business, and then offers a list associated metrics for you to track which will answer them. As you can tell, we are big on storytelling, but there are plenty of other popular frameworks like HEART and AARRR that focus less on narrative while providing structure to your metric tracking. Skip right to the bottom of that one unless you want a general metrics overview first.

🎏 One of the few positives of COVID was that more people got restless enough to go out and run. This provided some gustry tailwinds for run tracking app Strava, growing the app 2m users/month and leading them to a 1.5b valuation in late 2020. Of course that success wasn’t built overnight, their mobile growth strategy put them in position to capitalize when the world turned upside down. There some are valuable lessons for B2B folks in how they tested new app monetization strategies, namely, if changes anger your existing paid users, be ready to pull the cord quickly.

✅ Let’s talk about the 40% rule, and before you stop us, we don’t mean the profitability vs. growth ratio rule you are probably thinking of. This one is around gauging PMF (product market fit), and is tested by asking users how they would feel if they could no longer use your product. If 40% or more of customers would be very disappointed, your value proposition checks the box. The linked read covers some other interesting ways of gauging fit and includes a concise 5 step model aimed at helping you find it. Quote of the piece: “life is too short to build something nobody wants”.

⌛ You’d think leadership with equity in a business would want as short of a vesting period as possible (4 years is standard), but some founders are taking a contrarian stance by voluntarily signing up for 8 year periods. Why? Well, you could argue that shorter vesting schedules harm a founder's interest. Given that startups generally take roughly 8 years to exit (see below), a vesting period which fits that schedule would do a better job of keeping everyone aligned. Many of the folks pushing this idea are second time entrepreneurs jaded by previous founder fallout, so don’t shoot the messenger!

👂 Drift’s Tricia Gellman and InVisions’s Brian Kardon recounted the biggest mistakes they made in their early CMO days on the SaaS Revolution Show. Both pointed to a lack of alignment with their stakeholders on where marketing should be focused as the #1 mistake, which is pretty ironic given that marketing is all about being a great listener to your audience! Another mishap was not moving quickly enough. You want to be able to make a noticeable impact in your company within your first 90 days, so Kardon suggests starting to look for new hires (if you are adding to your team) the day you sign. They also pointed out some simple improvements like more detailed reporting which can serve as quick wins.

⚾ You are an SDR battling for a prospect's attention, hoping to grab just a few seconds of their spare time to pitch your product. So how do you reach them? We came across a fun thread on Sales Hacker weighing the two obvious choices – phone or email. The final answer is… Well, it depends. For more transactional, lower ARPU products, an email first followed by a call (if they don’t respond) lays the groundwork by sharing key info upfront, and gives high interest prospects a chance to identify themselves before you expend too much energy . For higher value enterprise tools, a call right off the bat which demonstrates that you have done your homework and took the time to specifically dial them is well worth the output.

💵 B2B SaaS co’s have much more complex billing scenarios than your basic subscription box startup, which is why they require sophisticated tools to manage their payments. Pure product capability is of course the number one factor in the decision but fees (both as a percentage of revenue billed and per transaction) can end up being a huge variable as they vary greatly from vendor to vendor. Subscription analytics tool Baremetrics offered a list of potential picks along with their key features and fees so you can cut right to the chase. The larger your business and revenue flowing through your payments solution, the more appealing a flat rate with low variability will be.

🧠 The hardest part of creating a startup isn’t building a product, it’s getting people to actually care about it. Go-to-market is how we make people care, but that strategy is largely informed by how your product is built, making the two interconnected. Merci Victoria Grace’s (Former Director of Product at Slack) guide to building a sellable product explains this dynamic and why success boils down to how your product makes people feel. For example, creating “Day 0 Value” which immediately gives users the feeling they’ve mastered a new workflow triggers a powerful dopamine rush that leaves them wanting more. This and similar product emotional experiences makes users willing to suffer through areas of friction in your app, and turns them into long standing customers.

👍 On Patrick O'Shaughnessy's Invest Like the Best, former AmpPush CEO Jesse Pujji dropped in to give a high level explainer on performance marketing and where most companies get it wrong. Making big Facebook or Google ad buys without an understanding of your funnel is the most common culprit of wasted dollars, but he also points to CEOs deferring marketing activities towards others as a key mistake. There’s really no one who can explain why their product is a winner better than the CEO, so as a rule of thumb, Pujii suggests CEOs spend half as much time on product as they do on developing unique marketing strategy. A lack of patience can also be the killer – it should take 90 days with more than 50% of a CEO’s time and focus to really get a channel nailed down, a big commitment which is worth the effort.

🥶 Many marketers feared their budgets, and even their jobs, were at risk during the thick of the pandemic, as it’s no secret that companies often look to cut marketing expenses first. And while it’s true that budgets were chopped significantly (44% of CMOs lessened spend), ⅔ of markets felt that the importance of their role actually increased during these spending freezes. With less money to play with, ensuring that your businesses’ dollars go further was critical, and marketers were undoubtedly the best equipped to make that happen. As tough as times as they were, we think it actually aided in changing the narrative around marketing as a somewhat less important department. 

🖱️ There’s a counterintuitive trend occurring in Google search as we’re seeing an increase in the number of searches along with a decrease in total clicks. More specifically, Sparktoro highlighted that 65% of Google searches in 2020 didn’t result in a click at all! There are a couple prime suspects. One: Google’s improving answer box could be using top results to address questions pre-click (good for users, bad for all brands who aren’t the #1 result). Two: the pandemic pushed more users from desktop to mobile, which is 30% more likely to produce no click searches. Flighty, short attention mobile users makes sense to us, and puts more power in Google’s hands as top of the page placements become the only worthwhile spots on SERPs.

👟 What can B2B SaaS learn from the world of NFTs and sneakers? More than you think. Product drops where creators announce they will offer a limited amount of products at a specific time can build crazy hype. NBA Top Shot announced they were doing a new drop in a few hours and literally had to push the time because of the overflow of traffic to their site. Contests and raffles are another go to for NFTs and sneakers that are worth looking at – ask users to complete a few actions such as liking a post or referring a friend and gain a chance to win big. These tactics might feel outside of the standard software playbook, but one of the best ways to stand out in B2B SaaS is to not be boring!

🤬 We listened to Gong.io’s Mike McEuen (Senior Marketing Manager) chat about the company’s most successful marketing tactics on the SaaS Marketing Superstars pod. They’ve seemingly been everywhere since early 2019, and it started with carving out a voice on LinkedIn via organic posts, which remains one of their top traffic sources today. Unlike Facebook, which pretty much requires businesses to buy ads for exposure, LinkedIn offers great visibility that can lead to ultra efficient customer acquisition. Visibility of course relies on well crafted content, which McEuen thinks Gong did by taking a hard, counterintuitive stance on sales. For example, they posted data showing that cursing on calls actually led to more deals closed.

🌿 Every once in a while it’s helpful to take a step back from your “in the weeds” marketing tactics and evaluate your holistic approach to make sure you are addressing all of the core channels you need to be. Alex Kracov, the VP of Marketing over at Lattice, published a 2021 B2B SaaS marketing guide which can serve as a refresher on all of those areas you should be considering. It includes loads of resources to help with everything from early marketing activities like positioning, all the way down to more complex B2B demand generation frameworks and paid growth strategy. Highly recommended.

📱 Another area of marketing we see growing in B2B SaaS is SMS. Text might feel invasive for business use cases, but the simple truth is that 98% of text messages are read while only 18% of marketing emails are opened, so if a potential customer is open to giving you their cell, you should utilize it! The linked article above includes helpful templates which demonstrate how SMS can be used for demo requests, support, and feature launches, but we would start slow and only text for sales needs so you don’t overwhelm customers. In terms of what to use, Podium is the leader in B2B text messaging software, and for the more technically inclined, you can use a combination of Segment and Twilio to set up SMS on your own.

🛍️ Referral marketing programs are most commonly associated with B2C products in retail and finance, but we wholeheartedly believe they are B2B SaaS workable as well. Even if you are skeptical, the potential benefits greatly outweigh the cost of testing. You won’t just be lowering your CAC by having existing customers bring in cost effective leads, you should also end up increasing your retention numbers as customers referred by other customers have a 37% higher retention rate. With B2B SaaS products, cash credits are an awkward incentive as you are selling to a business, not an individual, so a free month of subscription or discount on the buyer’s next bill is usually the way to go.

📦 When we talk about stickiness it’s usually around customer retention, but we’re going to take a step back here and take a look at how to make your ideas stick. In Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick, the two brothers cover the 6 qualities which your ideas must have to stay top of mind, which they cleverly built to spell out success (which, in itself, makes their idea sticky!).

📊 When creating or even just rebuilding your company’s financial model, there’s little reason for you to start from scratch. There are dozens of resources around SaaS modeling which can serve as a great starting point. Stéphan Nasser’s review of his top 12 choices, which compares each based on 5 key criteria, should be the first stop of your modeling journey. We personally are big fans of Taylor Davidson’s SaaS Financial Model and SaaS: Enterprise, SME & Users by Alexander Jarvis (both covered in the article).

⚾ If you’re a founder or CEO, you’ve probably provided VCs/PEs with details on your business to help them evaluate the opportunity of investment. But you never get to see what happens to that data, or how it is pitched amongst their investment committee. So it’s pretty cool that Bessemer publishes their investment memos, sharing some inside baseball on their most successful deals like Shopify, LinkedIn, and Twitch. The risks outlined in each are particularly interesting, as you can see how they were able to overcome those challenges after the fact. It’s best for you as a company to highlight those risks ahead of time, and provide ammo to combat concerns.

🔋 Annual software reports are often repetitive (did you hear that software is eating the world?!), but the latest from Battery Ventures didn’t disappoint. The tl;dr is the general market consensus of what a good SaaS business looks like (for ex. 120%+ net retention or 80%+ gross margin) is falling apart, as there has been an expansion of playbooks which prove that you can be a stellar SaaS co without attaining “bluechip” metrics. So how do you evaluate businesses if those mentioned benchmarks aren’t always the best indicator of success? By digging deep into cohorts economics – the linked sheet from Batter is a helpful template to get you started.

🎒 Education can be a difficult vertical to sell into – the sales cycles are long with multiple decision makers involved, and your product better be squeaky clean to get past IT. GoGuardian founder Advait Shinde recounts how he faced these obstacles on The SaaS Podcast, receiving countless rejections for his classroom management software in their first years of the business. He and his cofounder’s young age and lack of experience didn’t help their case, but he kept a positive mindset and was persistent with his prospects, who slowly but surely started to come around. Fast forward to today, and they’re used by 18 million studies and above 50m in ARR. Of course there are many reasons why Shinde was able to succeed, but as you’ll hear in the pod, he credits persistence above all else.

☕ When it comes to raising capital from SaaS lenders, growth is the metric which founders and CEOs tend to think will have the greatest impact on their success. And while that’s not totally off, the truth is that not all growth is weighed equally – lenders and investors will be specifically zeroing in on your growth efficiency to understand your ability to pay back their capital invested. In the linked article, Espresso Capital explains how to calculate key growth efficiency metrics, what they can tell you about your business, and the important role they play in financing.

👔 Most bootstrapped SaaS companies don’t have board meetings because the board only consists of its founder! But we still think there’s value in holding boards even if you aren’t forced to – it’ll help you summarize and digest your quarterly progress as well as polish your board skills, which you and your company may benefit from down the line. This simple board meeting structure is a great one to follow for those looking to dip their toes into water. It tackles key KPIs like growth, runway, and retention up front when your team will be most engaged, and keeps your total meeting time to a concise 2 hours or less.

🥫 The amount of emails which buyers receive on a daily basis is getting to levels of absurdity, making the quality of emails that sales reps send even more important. NextHunt CRM interviewed 5 SaaS sales stars to see what their secret sauce to getting responses (and closing deals) was. It’s a long read, so if you only have time for one, we’d suggest skipping down to Samantha Gallagher’s section, who’s a Sales Development Manager at Intercom. Ensuring emails are sent with enough frequency to build rapport, being persistent until you hear a hard no, and consistently including language which adds (or shows how you) can add value are her strongest pieces of advice.

🐡 Did you know that waiting longer than just 5 minutes to follow up with a webform submission decreases your ability to connect with the prospect by 10x? Goes to show that buyers have the attention span of a goldfish, and thus should be prioritized based on their demonstrations of buying intent (like a form submission). Measuring MQLs does this to an extent, weighing prospects based on profile and interactions they’ve had with your brand. But where MQLs fall short is the time it takes to process that data, because as mentioned, just 5 minutes can force a buyer to move on. It’s why Drift are big fans of conversational marketing, and the stats shared in their liked Ebook will probably make you one as well.

🤬 If you work in a SaaS business where everyone is encouraged to blog, you may want to put on the earmuffs for this stat: 70% of the content written in organizations is never used, and the other 30% is rarely utilized properly. So instead of focusing on pumping out sheer volume, Randy Frisch argues that we should take a step back and think about how to better leverage our content into experiences. His book, F#ck Content Marketing, he explains why personalized content streams (think Netflix and Spotify) are what each SaaS business should be creating, and why it doesn’t take 100’s of articles to get there.


🔪 Hearing “you’re not thinking strategically” has to be one of the deepest cuts you can recieve in a product related position. But even the best fall down sometimes – Rose Yao spent years building at both Google and Facebook, and couldn’t avoid that exact criticism early in her career. She has since put together a basic product strategy framework to help demystify the topic and show product managers how they can think a bit more outside the box. She includes a couple popular frameworks like the 70/20/10. (70% of time should be spent on existing products, 20% on medium size products/features, and 10% on pure innovation) which have withstood the test of time and are great guides to stick to.

🤥 SaaS companies have an increasing pool of loan providers to choose from, so if you’re considering, you’ll have to take a hard look at who’s offering the best rates. But beware, seemingly identical rates can end up costing you very different totals. For example, some lenders offer rates at what they will say is 12%-20%, but without amortization, meaning you pay 112-120% of the total borrowed in equal payments over a given period. That flat rate actually ends up equating to a 35% interest rate because the principle isn’t reducing every month. The Element Finance team put a nifty loan calculator together which can help you calculate these real costs and make sure you aren’t being swindled, check it out.

💓 When it comes to valuation, SaaS private equity investors lean heavily on the rule of 40, in which a company’s combined growth rate and profitability margin should be ≥ 40. But investors would take higher growth over higher profitability in a heartbeat (especially with smaller SaaS companies where profitability doesn’t equate to much), which is why it makes more sense to weigh each metric accordingly. SEG (Software Equity Group) suggests giving a 1.33 multiple to growth and 0.67 to profitability, which feels about right to us.

⏩ Hubspot (NYSE:HUBS) recently announced they beat Q4 2020 earnings expectations by 7%, and more importantly, surpassed 100,000 customers $1B in ARR. It’s an incredible benchmark for the business, and further proof that we should all be paying attention to whatever best practices and suggestions they offer! We are checking out The Sales Acceleration Formula, which was published by their former CRO, Mark Roberge. It gets pretty deep into the weeds, focusing less on big picture innovation and more on how they created a scalable path to get to where they are today.

📧 No matter what sort of SaaS business you work with, we bet email is one of your top, if not the top, marketing mediums. Single Grain offered a helpful refresher on the most important metrics you should be tracking within your email campaigns, as well as some relatively easy ways to improve them via optimizations. Take click through rates for example. Making your content truly relevant and personalized to the individual user (detailed Hubspot properties are a great start, you can upgrade to a full blown customer data platform when you are ready) is the best way to speak directly to your audience, which will increase your user engagement.

💽 Low to no code software is all the rave right now because the more your company can do without using precious development resources, the better. Groove HQ published a set of growth “hacks” (a word I regret using as I type...) which don’t even require low code tools, so there really are no excuses! Thoughtful autoresponders for email sign ups are a great example. They are easy to implement, and can be trickled in to supplement new feature announcements and other more ad hoc emails, which will give your subscriber a bit more structure along their customer journey.

☠️ Having a killer sales team alone doesn’t guarantee you success – an effective sales enablement strategy is often actually what ends up separating winning sales teams from struggling ones. So if you are looking to grade your own process, these are a few metrics which can highlight where things are going right, or potentially wrong. Keep in mind that just a few reps may be accounting for the majority of your sales (the 80/20 rule often applies here) and that’s ok. You just need to understand where success is coming from in you organization, then you can work to replicate it.

📞 Gong and Chorus.ai are both on the cutting edge of sales intelligence. The tools record/transcribe sales calls, grade them, then offer suggestions on how to improve – down to highlighting the specific topics and phrases that leads to the most closed deals. If you haven’t strongly considered one, it’s worth checking out this piece to see how Gong uses their own product. Close.io also just launched a call coaching feature which allows managers to “whisper” to their reps during the middle of a call. We haven’t tested yet but it seems like it would make loads of sense when onboarding new reps.

✨ Building a successful brand is more than coming up with an eye-catching logo and a well-designed website. It’s about bringing your product to life. Paul Campillo recently went on the SaaS Club podcast to discuss how Typeform built their incredibly successful brand. His number one suggestion was to not do branding, and instead focus on positioning. What he means by this is truly focus on what makes you stand out in your niche. Another element of their marketing strategy Typeform did well was talking to their early customers and developing really solid customer stories. He credits customer transformation as the most exciting part of these brand stories.

🔛 When it comes to customer expansion, there are typically three buckets that revenue can fall into add-on, upgrades, and cross-sales. If you’re a usage-based company, congratulations! Your customer expansion strategy is already baked into your business model. Where companies can get really creative is in add-on and cross-sales. Email and webinars are extremely powerful for both as they are probably the best out of app method to show customers how they can get more out of the product. So develop content and use cases to support it.


🤖 One of the biggest pitfalls of data handling is a lack of context and the ability to give insight into the “why” behind your customers’ behavior. It’s why most data-savvy companies are moving away from your plug and play analytics frameworks and almost exclusively focusing on cohort analysis. For those who haven’t made the leap yet, this summary by Chameleon is a solid write up on cohort analysis basics and how to get going. The one-sentence summary – it provides context to your users’ actions, really diving deep into who is using your product most and where the disconnect points are by mapping out consistent user flows.

🕰 When your team is upgrading the product or rolling out a new feature, you want them to be excited. But excitement can lead to rushing things. There’s something to be said for slowing down and taking your time with product development. Quality will always win when it comes to attracting and retaining customers; think of the project management space – there are a million apps. They all do essentially the same thing with relatively similar interfaces. What sets the Asanas and Basecamps of the world apart is the minute details which took time and patience to build. Shipping a product before all the kinks are worked out is a surefire way to kill your company’s retention rate because if V1 tanks, customers won’t always stick around for V2.

💼 In David Maister’s book, Trusted Advisor, he explains how to effectively build trust between clients and consultants. While not the target audience, the approaches laid out in the book are helpful for everyone from sales reps to CEOs, as the foundation of any relationship with those you work with is trust. One of his critical pieces of advice on relationship building is to consciously remove your ego from work situations. When building a relationship with anyone (clients, team members, and investors), the goal is to actively listen and find common ground with them, not convince them of your accomplishments.

🎨 Teams iterate on their products and build out new features to increase functionality and differentiate from the competition. But they rarely think about the impact those additions have on their software’s UI/UX. Intercom found that many of their customers became frustrated with the app navigation after numerous changes to the product. Realizing they had made a mistake, they decided to take action. Their redesign prioritized two things above all: only focusing on the most used areas of the navigation screen and simplifying their design elements. Simplifying is where they won – the product became intuitive to their customers’ needs (we can vouch) and became much more sticky.

⚡️ All startups are targeting growth, but it becomes dangerous when companies will pursue it at all costs ignoring the potential risks. We try to encourage founders to take a more patient approach, because the downside to unsustainable scaling is incredibly high. Just remember that growth rarely ever happens overnight, and even those who do shoot off like a rocket first had to put the proper growth infrastructure in place to make it possible.

💀 You’re a B2B SaaS startup doing 5-10m ARR and you can’t help but give yourself a pat on the back – you found your PMF, have a growing install base (and team), and arrived at a point many companies never make it to. But somewhere in the next phase of 10-50m ARR you will face the treacherous SaaS Valley of Death, where your once stellar GTM machine is no longer sufficient. Oak HC/FT’s Allen Miller believes that decreasing sales efficiency is a clear symptom of a company heading towards the valley, and offers some levers to pull which can help get you back on track. He also wisely suggests hiring someone who has gone through this stage and can call on their past experiences, which will always be invaluable.

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Fairbanks Advisors
Strategy
TAM SAM SOM: The Meaning Behind the Metrics

🌎 TAM (total addressable market), SAM (serviceable available market), and SOM (serviceable obtainable market) are the typical tiers used to demonstrate what a company’s market could be. But none of them focus on the near future of your company – TAM’s are generally represented as $1b+, which isn’t going happen in the short term. That’s why Fairbanks Venture Advisors suggests early stage founders think about their Launch Available Market, or LAM, to map out and show investors who your initial targets are going to be. LAM is calculated by estimating conversion rates of your acquisition activities (or using the real rates if you have the data) then applying your ARPU, and other bottom-up approach assumptions that show you are accounting for all variables.

Kenn So
Strategy
Finance
Tech Valuation

⚖️ Early stage SaaS investor Kenn So penned a great essay on why investors continue to bid up startups prices, even though they would admit they are overvalued. It starts with a simple supply and demand equation. With only ¼ of the number startups being created today as there was in 2010 (see below), and a 380% increase in the amount of VC raised since that same year, there is high investor demand for a small supply of investable startups (you have to deploy to stay in business, after all). And while the amount of startups exiting has decreased 5% over that period, the amount of money exits are generating has grown significantly, justifying VCs to bid further. One notable difference from the early 2000s to today – 80% of startups are burning cash at the point of IPO, while not growing much faster than the more capital efficient cohorts of earlier years, a pretty eye opening stat.

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Marketing
Sales
Building a Demand Gen Flywheel for B2B SaaS

🌾 Most B2B SaaS companies start with a low touch sales model before building an SDR team and moving upmarket because low touch also generally means lower cost. Marc Thomas from PoweredbySearch went against the grain and started with a direct sales model before moving down market to build a B2B SaaS demand gen flywheel. He shared a template for building that model which stemmed from his learnings, from positioning to website structuring, and also has a separate piece with some additional notes on the principles discussed in the model which is a good supplementary read if you enjoy the first!

Cathy Goodwin
Marketing
Case Study
How to Get More Sales With a Story

👓 The Wall Street Journal’s legendary “Tale of Two Young Men'' letter tells the story of two men with similar backgrounds who work at the same manufacturing business. 25 years down the line one man is in the same role and the other is president of the business, the only difference being that the president educated himself by reading the WSJ. That story, which resulted in over $2B in subscriptions during a ~30 year period, follows a clear “two path” storytelling framework which can be applied to pretty much any SaaS business. While it has lost some of its novelty through gained popularity, it’s a good framework to use in messaging where you are looking to demonstrate how you beat the competition without boasting.


Cole Dunlop
Marketing
Metrics
Maximize Content ROI By Splintering

🪓 Getting content right is time consuming, but if you want to maximize the channel, there’s no way around dedicating real resources to it. When looking at content ROI, you measure the cost to produce your content and the resulting engagement and conversions over time. It can take a while to generate returns from one piece, so an efficient way to improve your ROI is in the short term is by content splintering – creating similar content focused on the original topic with tweaks that make it unique, and publishing it across separate channels. Aside from being a money and time saver, splintering enables companies to test new channels because few resources are needed to adapt your existing content to whatever new channel or platform you are testing.

Nicolas Carteron
Case Study
Growth
Strategy
Choosing Profitability Over Growth

☁️ VCs look for immediate and extreme growth in their investments, so the profitability of the companies they work with is the least of their concerns. But striving for sky high growth can be costly, and not just in dollars. Dumping loads of capital into marketing makes it nearly impossible to identify your real cost to acquire customers (CAC), and if your CAC remains high over time, you run the risk of never being able to build a sustainable model. There are, however, some notable software businesses who have taken the road less traveled, achieving profitability while also growing to an impressive scale. Both profitable and high burn companies can generate great returns for investors, we would just argue that the profitable ones also create good outcomes for founders!

OMERS Ventures
Strategy
B2B SaaS — is a future without app-overload a reality?

🎼 Businesses’ software stacks are getting crowded. On average, companies have 37 different software vendors at one time, and we bet it’s even higher for SaaS companies. The question is, do all of these tools really improve workflow and productivity, or are we overloaded? OMERS Ventures thinks poor communications between tools is the biggest issue with our ever increasing software stack, and a new breed of data orchestration software, which help these products seamlessly integrate with other apps, is the likely solution. API-first players like Zapier, Plaid, and Stripe have already made significant progress in addressing the needs of SMB and mid-market companies, but public APIs and API solution providers have a ways to go, as they struggle to match the speed of smaller, agile businesses.

Data Driven Investor
No items found.
How to Show Validation When You Have None

🧻 Storytelling is one of the hardest tasks for first founders because they often don’t have the data or work experience to build their story. Liran Belenzon shared a great story of how he got creative when faced with that exact problem. He needed to raise a bit of capital when pursuing his first venture, but their product was not at a point where it would have won customers over, which they needed to get investors excited. To show traction, he had a freelance designer build a paper prototype which demonstrated how the fully built tool would function to customers. The idea on its own was enough to sign up 200 prospect for their MVP, which was instrumental in showing traction to investors in the fundraising process.

AWH
Strategy
Growth
Founders Evolving into Leaders

🌠 Perhaps an unpopular opinion (with founders at least), but they rarely start out as good leaders. It’s no fault of their own, it just usually takes time for them to acclimate to the task of leading others while also getting their day to day needs accomplished. The curve can be steep – the atmosphere surrounding software is of course quick in nature and constantly evolving, so the time it takes to evolve into leadership is often not given to the founder. That said, startups which take a more moderate approach to growth typically allow time for founders to find their way and grow in leadership, opposed to fast growth companies where the founder has to learn quickly.

Charles Yu
Strategy
Finance
The Ultimate Guide to Liquidation Preferences

🥤 One of the often misunderstood aspects of term sheets is liquidation preferences. These preferences give VCs the right to receive the funds they have invested before any common shareholders, such as founders, if a liquidation event occurs. That doesn’t just mean in the case of bankruptcy or winding down your company – any sort of transaction in which there is a change of control is considered a liquidation event. This read covers the differences between non-participating prefs (VCs get a multiple of the funds they invested OR a percentage of the stake they have in the company, assuming the shares convert to equity), participating prefs (VCs get both a multiple of their investment and a percentage of the investment made), and other key terms to know.

Danny Sheridan
Strategy
Reads
5 tips from Amazon’s Doc Bar Raisers

💭 “Write poorly and they notice the style; write well and they notice the idea”. That message on the importance of clear writing is taught to all Amazon employees, along with the idea to not write to impress others, but to express ideas. This list from Ex- AWS product manager, Danny Sheridan, covers 5 tips from Amazon’s Doc Bar Raisers (employees who participate in the final round of new hire interviews) on how to write clearly. One suggestion is to write in rhythm – varying word count and sentence length to hold the reader's attention – in particular is an easy change to make that can drastically improve your writing today.

Dave Kellogg
Metrics
Case Study
Net Dollar Retention (NDR) 2021 Benchmarks and Thoughts

🥣 At Gainsight’s Pulse 2021 conference, SaaS advisor and consultant Dave Kellog took the stage to share net dollar retention (NDR) benchmarks and evolving trends in software metrics. Median NDR for private companies is up to 104% and the public SaaS median is 111% – both growing numbers due to NDR’s increasing impact on valuation (churn is a dead metric) and more companies adopting usage models which are ideal for growing contract value over time. He is also covers issues with the life time value (LTV) metric stemming from low or negative churn rates – for example, a 3 year old company with very little churn could show a 20 year LTV, when in reality there isn’t enough data to prove that. The full slides are available here.

📕 Weekly SaaS Insights

It’s hard to find great SaaS content. We scour the web every week to bring you the latest and greatest news and resources on our favorite industry.

Weighing Growth vs. Profitability; First-time founder growing pains; How to show validation when you lack data...
September 17, 2021
📕 Why investors continue to bid up valuations; Low-touch demand gen models; Content splintering...
August 27, 2021
📕 Evolving trends in SaaS metrics; Understanding liquidation preferences; How to be a clear writer...
August 13, 2021

📕 The SaaS Playbook

September 17, 2021

Weighing Growth vs. Profitability; First-time founder growing pains; How to show validation when you lack data...

Strategy

☁️ VCs look for immediate and extreme growth in their investments, so the profitability of the companies they work with is the least of their concerns. But striving for sky high growth can be costly, and not just in dollars. Dumping loads of capital into marketing makes it nearly impossible to identify your real cost to acquire customers (CAC), and if your CAC remains high over time, you run the risk of never being able to build a sustainable model. There are, however, some notable software businesses who have taken the road less traveled, achieving profitability while also growing to an impressive scale. Both profitable and high burn companies can generate great returns for investors, we would just argue that the profitable ones also create good outcomes for founders!

Strategy

🎼 Businesses’ software stacks are getting crowded. On average, companies have 37 different software vendors at one time, and we bet it’s even higher for SaaS companies. The question is, do all of these tools really improve workflow and productivity, or are we overloaded? OMERS Ventures thinks poor communications between tools is the biggest issue with our ever increasing software stack, and a new breed of data orchestration software, which help these products seamlessly integrate with other apps, is the likely solution. API-first players like Zapier, Plaid, and Stripe have already made significant progress in addressing the needs of SMB and mid-market companies, but public APIs and API solution providers have a ways to go, as they struggle to match the speed of smaller, agile businesses.

Strategy

🧻 Storytelling is one of the hardest tasks for first founders because they often don’t have the data or work experience to build their story. Liran Belenzon shared a great story of how he got creative when faced with that exact problem. He needed to raise a bit of capital when pursuing his first venture, but their product was not at a point where it would have won customers over, which they needed to get investors excited. To show traction, he had a freelance designer build a paper prototype which demonstrated how the fully built tool would function to customers. The idea on its own was enough to sign up 200 prospect for their MVP, which was instrumental in showing traction to investors in the fundraising process.

Strategy

🌠 Perhaps an unpopular opinion (with founders at least), but they rarely start out as good leaders. It’s no fault of their own, it just usually takes time for them to acclimate to the task of leading others while also getting their day to day needs accomplished. The curve can be steep – the atmosphere surrounding software is of course quick in nature and constantly evolving, so the time it takes to evolve into leadership is often not given to the founder. That said, startups which take a more moderate approach to growth typically allow time for founders to find their way and grow in leadership, opposed to fast growth companies where the founder has to learn quickly.

Scaleworks Articles

Business

Introducing Element SaaS Finance

We’re excited to share that Scaleworks Venture Finance is now Element SaaS Finance! Element provides flexible loans to growing SaaS companies based on their asset of recurring revenue.

News

Scaleworks Acquires Nextopia, Leader in Real-time E-commerce Recommendations and Personalization

We’re excited to announce that Scaleworks has made its second acquisition from Fund II. Joining the family is a leader in e-commerce search technology, with specific expertise in real-time recommendation and personalization, Nextopia.

Strategy

Working backwards to uncover key success factors

If you’re a SaaS business — you’re likely overwhelmed with data and an ever growing list of acronyms that purport to unlock secret keys to your success.

From the Blog

Scaleworks Acquires Nextopia, Leader in Real-time E-commerce Recommendations and Personalization

We’re excited to announce that Scaleworks has made its second acquisition from Fund II. Joining the family is a leader in e-commerce search technology, with specific expertise in real-time recommendation and personalization, Nextopia.

News

Scaleworks Acquires SearchSpring, Leader in E-commerce Search

Scaleworks is excited to announce today that we’ve acquired SearchSpring, a company that provides access to advanced searching for online retailers' websites. This acquisition is the first for Fund II, which we announced this past February.

Business

This is Scaleworks Debt Fund, a revenue based lender to B2B SaaS companies

As an avid follower of innovation (in all industries) and having worked and studied Finance for the last twenty years, the rise of challengers to the finance and banking industry is met with open arms.

Finance