SaaStr Annual 2018 Day One Highlights

By Erika Malzberg February 6, 2018

To quote Dharmesh Shah, Co-founder and CTO of HubSpot, in the opening to his session today on company culture, “I love SaaS(tr). No seriously. I love it sooo much.”

If you love SaaS, SaaStr Annual is the place to be.

This year saw the event shift—and fill to, and past, capacity—the Hilton in downtown San Francisco. Jason Lemkin and his crack team of 10 have a number of surprises up their sleeves this year from giant Jenga and huge NY-style hot pretzels in the hang-out lounge to their huge expo hall filled with Sponsors We Love.

More importantly, day one of SaaStr Annual 2018 delivered on its promise to be the event that unites the global B2B SaaS community. With over 10,000 founders, senior executives, and VCs on hand, the learnings were as plentiful as the drinks and snacks.

Here are just a few highlights from today’s session, from diversity and inclusion (the focus for this year’s event) to avoiding the leads black hole, product design principles, churn, building a winning sales culture, visual stories that sell, and more:

On the marketing funnel:

“With B2B SaaS, we’ve been taught to look at the traditional funnel with marketing on top and then sales—this is how we’ve thought about the world since marketing and sales were put together. But this is no longer the way. The modern B2B funnel is more side to side. More sales and marketing touches throughout the funnel. The buyer is being ping ponged back and forth between sales and marketing. This creates a lot of friction. What happens when you don’t get that right?” – Evan Liang, Co-Founder and CEO, Lean Data, @evanliang

“Keeping our funnel fluid was one of the best things we did. The real point is to add validity.” – Lee Davis, Sr. Director, Marketing, Bluewolf, an IBM Company

On defining your TAM (total addressable market):

“The biggest save for us was diverting non-TAM leads away from SDR and into nurture streams. Very few of the non-TAM leads ever did engage. As a marketing and sales organization, you have to be comfortable with cutting bait.” – Lars Nilsson, VP Global Inside Sales, Cloudera, @LarsNilsson

On buying signals:

“Today more and more companies are introducing intent, or buying signals. Depending on your program, event, or piece of digital content that you’re sending out, are prospects raising hands and saying yes? Because if they’re not, they probably want to be left alone to read, research, get inspired, educate themselves…and not get a call 1.2 seconds later.” – Lars Nilsson, VP Global Inside Sales, Cloudera, @LarsNilsson

On building the sales team and process:

As you put new logos into your customer base, understand which of these will end up becoming your ideal customer profile. The first 20 you sell yourself. And then, can you get someone else to sell? Then the next stage is when you want to build a team – more than 5 reps – that’s the next scalability where you need to define the funnel and process to help you get to the next level.” – Evan Liang, Co-Founder and CEO, Lean Data, @evanliang

“Sales will not follow up on leads. They will follow up on qualified leads.” – Lars Nilsson, VP Global Inside Sales, Cloudera, @LarsNilsson

On incentivizing sales:

“Incredible accomplishments don’t happen over the course of a month, but every single day. If you do the right things every day, hit your goals every day, the likelihood that you’ll deliver on your monthly or quarterly goals are pretty good. So we have a daily mantra that drives daily sales goals. It instantly spotlights poor performance on a daily basis. I call it my daily mantra goals. Some of you might know this as ‘micromanagement’!” – Justin Welsh, VP Sales, PatientPop, @JustinOSU99

On sales commissions

“We start by understanding how much every rep on the team costs us: salary, commissions, seat cost etc. Reps have to earn their set cost before they earn a dime back in commissions. Top performers always cross the pay-back threshold and bottom performers may never cross that line.” – Justin Welsh, VP Sales, PatientPop, @JustinOSU99

On disruption:

“The currents of disruption are so powerful. If the organization is brittle and can’t respond, you’re going to get smashed. You need organizational agility alignment, the ability to respond to external changes.” – Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack, @stewart

On building a product vs building a platform:

“Figure out where you can generate real value for people and pursue that. If that ends up being a platform, good. If that ends up being a product, good. The measure of our success is the amount of value we deliver to our customers.” – Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack, @stewart

On fundraising:

“If the money is cheap enough—not just in terms of dilution and percentage of ownership, but also in the degree of control you’re giving up—you should take it. Having cash available when stuff hits the fan, as a hedge, it makes sense.” – Stewart Butterfield, CEO, Slack, @stewart

On going public:

“Remember: going public is not a liquidity event for most people. You want to go public in markets that aren’t as strong. You want to be building your value over time. You don’t want volatility, but you do want a lower market.” – Annie Lamont, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Oak HC/FT, @annielamont

On being an entrepreneur:

“I never aspired to be an entrepreneur. I became an entrepreneur because I couldn’t find a job. I had to create a job for myself. Figure out an area where you can be an expert, you can know more than the person sitting next to you.” – Magdalena Yesil, Founder, Broadway Angels, Author of Power Up, @MagdalenaYesil

On the dot com bust:

“The dot com bust enabled small players like us with a new business model to get large corporations to come in and be our customers. The idea of paying multi-million dollar contracts to a softwaer company was not as palatable when the market went down. The dot com bust shrunk CIOs budget and opened the door to a new model.” – Magdalena Yesil, Founder, Broadway Angels, Author of Power Up, @MagdalenaYesil

On being flexible:

“In my country of Turkey, when someone is leaving on a major journey, neighbors collect around with buckets of water and throw it after them as a symbol to say ‘May you be like water, may you always flow to a destination.’ Water always go someplace. When I’ve encountered blocks, I can always flow around this, I may have a different trajectory, but I can always move forward. Water is flexible, it doesn’t always try to go somewhere in particular, it will go wherever it can.” – Magdalena Yesil, Founder, Broadway Angels, Author of Power Up, @MagdalenaYesil

On business strategy:

“Whenever I think back to break moments — where we got things really right or really wrong — I can always pin it back to a specific decision. Strategy is all about deciding what you’re not going to do. Decisions are the currency of a startup.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On finding focus:

“You can be doing awesome work, but if it’s not aligned with what the company is trying to do, it’s bad. Not neutral. Bad. It’s sending a bad message into the marketplace, and confusing your customer.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On product / marketing / sales alignment:

“If product, marketing and sales have different understandings of your world, it’s game over – it’s going to be a hot mess.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On the golden rule for decision making:

“Your decisions have to make sure you do two things: build what you sell and sell what you build. It sounds so deceptively simple, but most of the time this is where shit goes wrong.”- Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On product building:

“When deciding what to build, you need to build things that are feasible, desirable, and viable. Can it be done? Does anyone want it? Can it make money? If it doesn’t have all these three things, you’re wasting your time.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On making great products:

“Great products fight for a mission. People have to know what the hell they’re doing. We’re not here to refactor code.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

“In SaaS, every feature you work on either fails to get adopted by customers or gets copied (either it didn’t work out or it works out so much that your competitors do it too and it becomes best practice).” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On the biggest ROI:

“There are very few things so ROI positive as getting your whole company aligned on the same page.” – Des Traynor, Co-Founder, Intercom, @destraynor

On telling a good (company) story:

“Finding your takeaway message is similar to creating a blueprint for your house. Identify the purpose of the story that you’re about to tell, and if you do this well, you can focus your entire creative work around this thing.” – Peter Arvai, CEO and Co-Founder, Prezi, @peterarvai

“When making a film, we’re searching for a schematic, a controlling idea. Good themes, good central ideas usually start with a question, a question that sticks with you. Once you have that, you can start structuring a story about it. It becomes a North Star.” – Jason Katz, Chief Storyteller, Pixar

“In the beginning, it’s good to establish customer empathy, then in the middle, you need to deliver unique insight, and, at the end, you need to get to that new and improved world. That’s delivering the vision.” – Peter Arvai, CEO and Co-Founder, Prezi, @peterarvai

On creating company culture:

“Culture is the operating system for your company. Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.” – Dharmesh Shah, CTO and Founder, HubSpot, @dharmesh

“At most companies, employee feedback surveys are where feedback / data goes to die. Even if you take careful time to submit, you’ll never see it again. The secret is not the survey, it’s in sharing it with all your employees. The real work has nothing to do with data collection and analysis. The work begins when you ship that to the company to respond. If you’re not going to put the effort into making the changes that people request, then you shouldn’t ask.” – Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, HubSpot, @katieburkie

“Invest the time in creating values that inform people’s decisions. Values are not posters on your wall. They have to define who you hire, fire, promote, etc.” – Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, HubSpot, @katieburkie

“We want people who don’t just fit our culture; they actually further it.” – Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, HubSpot, @katieburkie

On perks:

“The best perk is meaningful work. The second best is amazing peers. Everything else is just icing on the cake.” – Katie Burke, Chief People Officer, HubSpot, @katieburkie

On free trials:

With a free trial… “you’re in feature function land, not business value land. Use the software to bridge back to discovery to the business value.” – Mike Volpe, CMO, Cybereason, @mvolpe

On pricing:

“When we first started out, we were in a category where our competitors were a free product. There were free tools out there. So when we came out, we started pricing really low — which haunts us still. At some point your product is going to outpace your pricing. No company ever says they started pricing too high. We’ve increased pricing 5-6x and it’s still too low.” – Justyn Howard, Founder and CEO, Sprout Social, @Justyn

On churn:

“There’s a natural rate of logo churn. For SMB it’s probably 1-1.5% a month. In the enterprise it’s less. You can literally waste time trying to get below that rate, but it’s a fool’s errand and incredibly expensive.” – Mike Volpe, CMO, Cybereason, @mvolpe

Looking forward to day two! See you then, SaaStr Annual!

Want more on SaaS growth? Download our free guide: The 10 Essential SaaS Growth Strategies for SaaS.