13 February 2019
SaaStr Annual is a celebration of software in the cloud, focusing on the people and the companies that’ve thrived in this new medium. It’s very much not a technology conference, per se. Instead it’s about organizing people do deliver value to customers as efficiently as possible. It’s a bit of a VC feeding frenzy as well, with a number of sessions like, “VC Confidential: This is what your VC is not telling you.” So I took away a number of product-centric ideas that I’m excited to sprinkle around BombBomb this year:
It can be daunting to new employees to come into an organization with a laundry list of achievements already behind it. Matt Shots, VP Sales for WPEngine challenges his new employees to imagine what their firsts will be. Launch the first video transcription tech, launch the first million dollar mobile app, be the first Principal Architect! There’s always another hill, and its up to everyone to chase what invigorates them.
In the war for talent, why is your company where your employees or prospects want to be? What’s the progression timeline? Forget perks, what’s the advancement conversation? Set the bar high out of the gate: “This job is going to be incredibly hard!” But the rewards in turn will be great! Work with the best people and technology around! You need to know why your opportunity is the best, and if it’s not, you need to make it that way.
Vijay Gill the SVP Engineering at DataBricks was adamant that it’s best if your company treats and organizes Product, Design and Engineering as one entity. Having those actors together as one team is the best possible mode of product development, siloing those groups and throwing work over the wall between them serves only to increase friction. We’re not there today, I want to go to there.
It seemed so obvious as he was saying it: Features you’re building and marketing are all about new user acquisition. But stability is all about retention. I’d specifically never thought about stability as retention play per se. Having that in mind seems like such a great foundation from which to launch technical deb pay-down and general care and feeding. I also was not familiar with the triad of RAS: reliability, availability and serviceability
Revenue should be an effect, rather than a cause you chase. Revenue needs be a byproduct of the creation of value of customers. I’ve been guilty of mis-prioritizing this in my thinking. Bootstrapped companies are maybe particularly vulnerable to making this mistake as cash-flow is king to living and dying. It’s a trap, though: create first the thing of value, make sure its value is as easy to reach and repeat as possible for new prospects. Once your offering is truly valuable, the revenue will follow.
This was one of my favorites. Karen Peacock, Intercom’s COO described how intercom’s main use now was originally a hack that some users forced into their platform. BombBomb is such an open medium that any sort of human excitement can flow through it. We’ve focused deeply on a handful of vertical industries to gain momentum, but along the periphery of that a number of interesting other uses have grown on their own. I myself have used it to great effect for recruiting, but we don’t push that in the market as a big idea to win new customers. Maybe we will some day. The point is, rather than invent whole new offerings, see if what you already have can do something you hadn’t thought of.
In the last year I’ve been describing to people how BombBomb has found Product-Market-Fit with a couple of particular verticals with a particular corner of our software. Karen Peacock cautioned about feeling like that kind of work could ever be done. Keep searching for new groups and new uses of what you have. Why settle for one fitted pair?
This is a good one as well, and a particular risk for engineers. Karen cautioned against getting too committed to any one solution to what it is you’re trying to solve. Instead stay focused on the problem and keep varying the solutions you explore. BombBomb is solving the problem of people being dehumanized in their communication across the internet. We have a number of solutions to that, and there are a number of solutions that exist outside of ourselves. It’s easy to get distracted onto the benefits and drawbacks of ours or competitors’ solutions, but it’s far more important to remain attached to solving the isolating disconnectedness that the internet can sometimes cause.
I’ve never been scientific enough in cycling on customer success in our products. My absolute favorite talk was from Mark Roberge:
Mark went hard for 45 minutes, but my favorite bit was about driving product and engineering work primarily based on determining a useful leading indicator of customer success, and then ravenously doing product and engineering work to drive that number. Don’t stop until your product delivers value to a vast majority of users. We’re not this disciplined. We need to be.
Lastly, and this is really an extension of the last one, is to spend time at the end of every day reviewing what’s actually happening on the playing field. What are users doing, what are they failing to do? Where did they get stuck, down to the second, with their experiences with your software. Watch replays, study the problem, be relentless. We really can’t go deep enough.
Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO left the conference stunned with some of his answers to how his team took over the live video meeting space: almost no hierarchy or process, no QA team per se. His first 33 hires were all engineers. That moment was crazy in how stupefied some of his left-field tactics left the room. I was very impressed with him.
Anyway, SaaStr’s a crazy corner of the world. You might check it out some time. They usually put a bunch of stuff up on Youtube.