Our intrepid reporter plunges into the mix of founders, investors and sales that was SaaStock.
SaaStock? More like Swagapalooza.
The thing you need to realize is that, in a very real sense, sales conferences give out better stuff.
To repeat the least interesting thought of the year, these are unprecedented times and so we must work harder to know the lucky from the good. To know who navigated the storm and who had the storm drop a house on the Wicked Witch of the West. Sure, the witch is dead, but it would be nice to know if you did it on purpose.
Before SaaStock, I’d have thought smoothly pivoting from ‘Covid was exceptional’, ‘we had significant Covid tailwinds’, to ‘we are exceptional’, ‘clearly we can extrapolate from the last two years’ would be impossible. Now, wiser, I’d say it’d be hard, but having watched it happen about 6 times, I know it can be done.
For an engineer, I’m a talker, but at this conference I was in the presence of professionals. Smooth? Like butter! Bulletproof confidence, immaculate hair, and brown leather shoes that could raise Series-A on their own.
Visionary is a state of mind. One day I will have the panache to deliver the argument, “When I joined we were third in a market of three, but... I believed! I led! We executed! And when I left three years later many things had changed.” (Reader, they’re still third.)
Their ways are strange, but their hustle is real, and I, unlike some British politicians, have not had enough of experts!
Funders, founders, philosophers.
But Tiarnán, you ask, what were the learnings? And I might say to you, what the hell is a learning? The best I can give you is a lesson or two.
Start with humility. This is not my neighborhood. I am not an expert. Don’t be afraid to Google the terms you don’t know (“Rule of 40”, “G2 CSat”). Assume good faith from the experts that surround you: they like talking about stuff you don’t understand like you like talking about Kubernetes.
I suppose it makes sense that companies that believe in the SaaS model would use SaaS, but the sheer number of SaaS-to-SaaS businesses was a shock to me. Want someone to handle your billing? Pricing? Employee happiness? They’re here! Want to apply machine learning to ensure the clothing you’re selling will fit the people you’re selling them to? They’re here too. Niche upon niche. SaaSes all the way down.
It makes sense: if those of us in the internet’s basement are happy to run on other people’s computers, why would HR, sales, or finance object when it comes to their tools?
So many talks, good talks! I’d argue the best talks came down to one thing: empathy - you should have some.
It should be clear to the user when they get to your site what you allow them to do that they can’t do today. One of the speakers suggested that every message on your home page should work if you precede it with the phrase “Now you can…”.
Make sure you’re valuing what the user values
If you ask the user to schedule a demo, is that for them or you? Would they be happier with documentation or a video? Do you ask for the information they want to give you or the information you want? Did they want to give you their inside leg measurement, or just their email address?
When you don't share your pricing, that’s for them, right? They love that. Well known fact.
There were a couple of great stories reminding us that we don’t always focus on the user’s needs, or even know what they are. On instinct we might build a free trial but, when you talk to the user they never talk about how expensive their solution is. We might be excited that we can get something done in 3 mins, but if the user is happy with 3 days, it’s probably not going to sell your product.
Another repeated theme was that success is possible, it can happen any number of ways, and it’s always better if you behave like you expected it.
Which reminds me of a story… During the Manhattan project, in the days before the first bomb test, an idea was hatched. “What if we put the bomb in the heaviest safe we can find?” It was genius! By wrapping the bomb in a few tonnes of metal, if the bomb didn’t achieve criticality, then they wouldn’t waste the atomic material by scattering it all over the desert! Brilliant! Cigars all round!
Then someone asked what would happen if they succeeded.
Oh. Then a few tonnes of irradiated liquified metal would be thrown across the desert an unknowable distance in all directions.
So maybe don’t do that then.
Play the game like your aim is to win.
Understand your unit costs. Who are your expensive customers? Do they need to be? If they do, should they be your customers?
Work this out before they bankrupt you.
What will be the metrics you wish you had? Don’t you wish you already collected that metric?
If you had a sales org what would you base their commission on?
The departments that you don’t have right now will show up eventually, and that’s a good thing! They’re better at their jobs than you are right now. That’ll bring complexity, but valuable complexity. They’ll design better funnels, more enticing pricing plans, more reliable engineering execution.
How would I phrase that lesson, applied to infrastructure? You don’t have to build the structures to handle success now, but you should spend a little bit of time knowing what they look like and what it would take to build them and migrate to them.
This is where we plan to help. We’re building tools that will help you see your limits before you hit them and plan for the future. Your infrastructure needs to be good enough for today, and you need to understand what it’ll take to be ready for tomorrow.
Every system you outgrow should feel like a victory; with Stanza, they will.