22 Business Growth Lessons for Startups from SaaStr Europa

business growthStartup life is hard enough when you’re trying to get a product off the ground.

But the challenge doesn’t stop at your first investment round.

The growth stage of a startup is where a whole load more are likely to flounder. You’ve made big promises to your investors and you’re struggling to meet those targets – not ideal.

Achieving the first stages of growth necessary to access further venture capital, or generate revenues you can rely on, is not easy. Your customers have higher expectations for your product and your team is expanding and professionalizing all while you’re still trying to improve output.

Fortunately, training tools and conferences exist where you can go to watch lectures, promote your product, and realize that everyone else is fighting the same issues at the networking events.

One growing scene at the moment is the European SaaS market.

Not as mature as its American cousin, the SaaS market in Europe has an explosion of companies and all of them are vying for that next stage of growth.

That’s why we went down to SaaStr Europa to find out what advice the speakers and panels would have for the 2019 cohort.

In this Process Street article, we’ll cover the key business growth lessons from a series of headline lectures:

  • Logging in to Paris
  • The Answers to Everything – with SaaStr, G2, Twilio, and CircleCI
  • Hackathon to Unicorn – with Talkdesk
  • Happy Customers at Scale – with New Relic
  • The Rules You Can Break – with Tradeshift
  • Freemium at Scale – with Typeform
  • Process Street won the prize!

Logging in to Paris

Located in the grand Maison de la Mutualité just off a main street in Paris, a small crowd is gathered outside the venue where Europe’s SaaS scene is congregating. Just across from the entrance, Cafe St Victor sits as an outcrop and an instant reminder that you’re in Paris, if you could forget. Its twirling font spells out the name above the awnings which lean out onto the sidewalk, shading a sea of tables where a new bustling cafe culture is evolving; a metaphor for a conference in Paris could not be more on-the-nose.

As I stroll up toward the Mutualité, I pass a church on my left slightly shrouded by trees. It’s a grand building but its small stature gives it an understated feel amongst the high reaches of the old city buildings. Inscribed above its doorway reads “Gloria Deo. Pax Terrae” – roughly translated: “Glory to God. Peace on Earth”. High ambitions and unrealistic lofty goals have clearly been resident in this neighbourhood long before we arrived.

Which makes it the perfect place for a tech conference.

As we gather in the lobby and in the stairwells being treated to some drinks and snacks, waiting for the first event to kick off, the first tentative attempts at networking begin.

The SaaStr conference is a well-organized event, moreso than a number of the smaller niche conferences I’ve been to recently. Everyone has registered through their mobile app and already saved their seats at their chosen talks. The app displays the other attendees so people can browse in advance and speed up the networking process. Aazar from Userpilot messages me. “We should meet up”.

As I look around the room, I wonder how many attendees chatting away had made that first connection in the app, and how many had taken the old school route of confident introductions. A man walks past me – his t-shirt on the back reads: “Tap to say hi”, with an icon. That’s more like it. Another man walks past in the most vibrant out-there suit I’ve seen – he’s here to get noticed. No sooner than I applauded him in my internal monologue, the room begins to empty.

A live jazz band fires up as the doors open to the theatre. It’s dark with a deep purple hue spilling out from the theatre lights above. Is it a conference or a speakeasy?

Either way, I like it.

Business growth lessons: Your rapid-fire guide to SaaStr Europa

I’m not going to give you an essay on each lecture of the conference.

What I will do, is pull out some of the talks and give you a brief summary of some of the key points made as actionable lessons. Some are industry-specific, some are broad. But there’s a lot of good stuff.

This is your rapid-fire breakdown of SaaStr Europa.

Fortunately, we have a few videos to go with them as well!

The Answers to Everything

We start with a snazzy video presentation to intro Jason Lemkin, CEO of SaaStr, who leads a panel of big players to answer audience questions. Many of these questions were submitted before the event, so we’re able to get a little more depth in the answers. The panel consists of:

  • Jason Lemkin – CEO, SaaStr
  • Godard Abel – CEO, G2
  • Tricia Miller – Senior Director EMEA, Twilio
  • Jane Kim – CRO, CircleCI

New questions pop up on the screen via Slido submitted by the audience and upvoted live. Which is pretty cool.

6 key business growth lessons:

  1. A reminder in the intro video that the average age of founders of unicorns is 34. The lesson? You have to fail before you succeed.
  2. Abel talks about going feature-lite and entering a different segment of the market. He’d rather do 20 100k deals than 1 1m deal.
  3. Kim talks about bringing on customers responsibly – the right fit. “A sales process is not just the customer evaluating us, but us evaluating them”. “Your first renewal is the most important dollar you’ll make as a company” – in SaaS (Kim). Kim – Magic number: look at spend in one quarter and then look at acquisition in the following quarter to see the impact of that. Looking for 0.7 to 1.
  4. 5% of budget is set to experimental channels. Might lose money or might discover a new or improved channel.
  5. Webinars are great for middle of the funnel. Build the relationship and educate the audience. The people who come back to watch that video for a second time are highly engaged leads.

Hackathon to Unicorn

Tiago Piava, Founder & CEO at Talkdesk, provided one of the inspirational tales of the day.

He spoke about the early days when he won a hackathon with Twilio. Tiago was babysitting, dog sitting, anything to make money. His little startup had no revenue for 2 years.

Ultimately, it came good. Of course.

Talkdesk is support software for talking to customers. Here’s the interesting thing, it’s built on Twilio and partnered with Zendesk and Salesforce.

In fact, not only do their partners and competitors overlap, “Talkdesk, Zendesk for voice” actually launched at the same event as Zendesk launched “Zendesk voice”.

Yet, despite all of this, Talkdesk is a very successful company and has been for some time. Which goes to show that you don’t have to fight everyone in the space all the time.

3 key business growth lessons:

  1. Partnerships take risk but you need to build trust. The strongest trust builder is field days to let your staff meet their staff. Go for drinks and eat together.
  2. Talkdesk has 500 engineers. 20 people to manage servers even though they use Google and Amazon. Keeping your product up and working is important and a priority in the enterprise space.
  3. When you go for the top end of enterprise it benefits to move to a hybrid cloud model, to provide private cloud in an on-prem style system. Getting into a regulated system is tough without it.

Happy Customers at Scale

Happy customers are very important. We all know that, but we don’t all sufficiently act on that.

Roger Scott, EVP Chief Customer Officer at New Relic, wants us to rethink this customer relationship and do it properly.

He feels that great photos are like business. He gives us a few classic photography quotes:

“Great photos are made not taken”

“Sharp photo of a fuzzy concept”

His point is that it’s important to be mindful, to slow down, to be intentional, and to think. We’re often told to do first and think later in the fast-paced world of agile approaches. Yet, this isn’t always the approach which will help you create assets for your business which can last.

Sometimes taking the time to give to your customers can reveal more than you expected. It helps you understand what customers think and feel through putting in the effort to build strong relationships. It doesn’t just yield value in your initial conversation but grows that value over time as the dialogue continues.

7 key business growth lessons:

  1. Build a team that lasts. Deliver today and grow into the future with customer-centric people who are inquisitive and curious.
  2. Develop a joint vision of customer success. Create it in a shared way with the customer and use it to drive you forward.
  3. Slow down. Take the necessary time to figure out what best practice looks like. It makes scaling more stable.
  4. Understand the customer journey from start to finish.
  5. Customer health should be central to your business. Scott initially tried to define a single metric for it – but that wasn’t that useful. They found it was better to leverage multiple KPIs and they built a dashboard to let people across the company see the health of specific customers.
  6. You can’t spend enough money to reach all customers. Existing customers can help you reach further via referrals. Try to create these lifelong advocates.
  7. Trust is the most important thing. In SaaS, users need to trust that your service will work when they need it. What are the moments of truth, what are the moments of value?

At the end, Scott wanted to present his ethos on customer relationships; Ubuntu. The philosophy of Ubuntu means humanity – literal translation, “I am because you are” – a concept which was used to heal in South Africa post-apartheid. Roger Scott is from South Africa and knows how valuable that concept can be, so wanted it instilled in the company.

The Rules You Can Break

Christian Lanng from Tradeshift sat down to give a wonderfully anarchic talk on breaking the rules.

He was pretty relaxed about most things and shot down the absolutism you hear often in the industry.

Here’s what you can break and what you could learn!

Rules you can break:

  • You need commercial traction to build value
  • You need to be in the US early
  • Your burn should not be too high
  • You cannot have a disappointing product
  • You need to be in a massive market

6 key business growth lessons:

  1. If you get capital, spend it and spend it fast. Spend money as it is aligned to the size of the market. Salesforce took 10 years from 0 – 1bn and then 10 years from 1bn to 90 bn.
  2. How do you value your network? Size, engagement, dollars moved? Uber’s market was every mile humans move. That’s why they’ve expanded into transportation outside ride sharing. That’s why they’ll keep going.
  3. Uber got their advantages by breaking the law. “Don’t break the law. But if you do…” – Breaking the law only works with a massive fanbase. If you damage your brand reputation, then you have less leverage in front of the law. (You can read more on that in my article on Uber’s global expansion).
  4. “You need the foundation of a great product, not necessarily a great product” (“If you’re not embarrassed about your product when you launched, you’ve launched too late”). You want to aim for a product-market space – it doesn’t need to be polished.
  5. Every B2B vertical is a 10bn market. B2B has so much growth space. The stickiness of B2B customers is much higher than B2C. One tweet almost killed Snapchat. That can’t happen with Tradeshift, and they have huge amounts of time to talk to that customer and improve the relationship.
  6. Meet as many investors as possible. Meet the principles at firms not the associates. Be bold. Don’t bootstrap in B2B. Get capital and drive growth. Use it to hire experience when you can.

Freemium at Scale

Lastly, we’ll very quickly touch on Typeform‘s presentation, given by CEO Joaquim Lecha.

The basic stats for Typeform are:

  • 190,000 free signups each month.
  • 3% move to paid.
  • 92% of all signups create a form in the first week.

3 main advantages:

  • Brand exposure
  • Feedback at scale
  • Great upsell potential

The brand exposure results in a large percentage of signups who had come directly to the website, who then convert at a rate double normal visits.

It costs 180k per month to run freemium and that’s only 7/8% of their overall monthly cost. In those terms, it certainly does seem to work for Typeform!

Key business growth lesson:

  1. If it seems to fit your business, try offering a freemium version of your product.

Talking of growth… to learn how Ryan Hoover, Founder of Product Hunt, acquired over 2000 users by doing things that didn’t scale. Check out this episode of our podcast Tech Out Loud.

Tech Out Loud is the only podcast that brings you the most impactful blog posts from the biggest names in tech, straight to your ears. You can also listen to this podcast on other platforms. Click to see the full list! If you enjoyed this podcast, subscribe for a new episode each week.

Process Street won the prize!

process-street-workflowWe’re also very pleased to share that we won the prize for Most Likely to Become a Unicorn. Thanks, SaaStr Europa!

If you aren’t familiar, Process Street does superpowered checklists.

You document your business processes as you might for standard operating procedures, and then follow them in a checklist format.

When you run a checklist from a template it creates an instance of the process which you can follow. It has form fields, media fields, upload fields, email widgets, and more. Task permissions, assigned checklists, and dynamic due dates. Required fields, stop tasks, and conditional logic.

Basically, all the things you need to make your business processes run smoothly.

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What business growth lessons would you give if you were speaking at a conference? Let us know your expert tips in the comments below!

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Adam Henshall

I manage the content for Process Street and dabble in other projects inc language exchange app Idyoma on the side. Living in Sevilla in the south of Spain, my current hobby is learning Spanish! @adam_h_h on Twitter. Subscribe to my email newsletter here on Substack: Trust The Process. Or come join the conversation on Reddit at r/ProcessManagement.

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