At Startup Daily’s recent 2023 Tech Playbook From Idea to Unicorn event, our expert panel unpacked the basics of scaling a SaaS business.
In a panel moderated by Matthew Allford, Content Creator and DevOps Engineer at Idea to Unicorn community partner parallelfounders and technology leaders discussed the key challenges and opportunities in growing SaaS businesses in the current climate.
Limited resources, difficulty in planning, and having many stakeholders can create a perfect scale storm.
“It’s always a balancing act,” said Joseph Azar, Chief Technology Officer at Forcite Helmet Systems. “I think customers are important, but then employees are important, but then investors are important, and you have to make them all happy at the same time, right?”
Here’s some good advice on how to scale your business and keep them all happy at the same time.
Set up a “customer listening” program
Any pain points in your UX when you’re small will only get bigger with you. So Justin Bohlmann, Head of Growth at fintech platform Thriday, says his number one piece of advice is to “set up a client listening program from day one and keep it running forever.”
He uses a “customer effort score” to rate how easy it is for his customers to use the key features of the Thriday service. “Then we ask the same question every 30 days as long as they have performed that action,” he explains. “That customer listening program and customer effort score can then be aggregated…measured, managed and improved across the business.”
It’s a measurable way to manage and work out customer feedback on what to focus on to improve as you scale.
At Forcite Helmet Systems, customer feedback is integrated into every aspect of their product and systems. “We engaged customers or potential customers from the start,” says Joseph. “So our product was developed from day one with customer feedback… It’s always a continuous feedback loop, always asking what the customers think, then implementing what the customers like.”
Determine your ‘wow’ moment
Your ‘wow’ is the thing that keeps your customers coming back for more. The thing that makes their lives infinitely easier or better; or solves a problem completely; or gives them bragging rights to their friends. In other words, it is the fundamental part of your service or product that allows you to scale easily.
Afonso Firmo, co-founder and director of NetNada says the sooner you figure out your “wow” moment, the better. Your wow moment is what drives customer sales, attracts employees, and interests investors. So, you know ‘wow’.
Hiring for broad talent
Your team’s talents need to be as scalable as your business.
As Matt points out, most SaaS companies usually start out with one or two people who are “doing 400 things at a time… and that doesn’t scale.”
As you grow, you quickly realize that you need to bring in more people to manage the workload, add new ideas and specialize in growth areas of the business. However, it is difficult to plan and more startups will not have the resources to bring in a specialized team from the start.
“We’re going from Series A to Series B, [but] we still act as a startup,” says Joseph. “You can’t hire someone to do one specific thing [who doesn’t] have enough workload to work all month.” The solution at Forcite Helmet Systems is for everyone to participate and work across different business functions. At some point they will be big enough to focus on specific functions, but not yet.
Be transparent when hiring someone
about what you expect from new recruits. The “all pitch in” approach that works so well for startups doesn’t suit everyone.
Engage partners strategically
When specialist areas need more input, working with consultants and freelancers can fill in the gaps until you are able to hire directly. “Consulting and hiring someone outside the company to do [a] specific job when it’s needed, that’s probably the best use of your money,” says Joseph.
This is a particularly good strategy when you enter international markets. You can hire in-market consultants or even work with a local company that can handle specialist areas such as HR and marketing. Or for Matt and the Parallo team, who provide specialized cloud management services to accelerate the growth of more than 60 SaaS companies and their more than 250 million users worldwide. There’s a lot to do, so you should never underestimate the power of technical support.
An added bonus of this way of working is that you work with experts who bring a unique cultural experience and valuable insights.
“I think there’s something magical about the creative side: Some people come in and have ideas or develop new areas of the business that you didn’t know you needed or had,” says Afonso.
“[A] good thing about new employees [is there’s] no sacred cows,” Justin adds. “It’s great to get new ideas and fresh ways of looking at things because, you know, you get focused and you just see the same thing day in and day out.”
Bring your customers
“One of the challenges…when you start scaling with customers or prospects is getting them on board by changing and challenging the status quo of what they’ve always done,” explains Matt.
To get around this, take your clients on the journey, advises Justin. “Treat them like friends. We have a customer community, so everyone is added to our Slack community as soon as they join. We talk to them all the time and not only ask them for feedback on the product, but also if we can help with their business.
“We had a customer advisory board… for the last few years right before we started. They have stock in the company and they’ve been some of our biggest advocates, you know, so just keep in touch, become friends.
Take your employees too
To retain your employees as you scale, the first thing you need to do is hire people who are a good fit for the culture. “We hire people mainly because of passion because they say skill can be learned and passion cannot,” says Joseph. “So we’re trying to get people on board by seeing what passion they’re in when we tell them about the product.”
Joseph also advises being transparent and honest. “The most important thing for us is to involve them in the decision-making process. Because if you have the support of an employee, they will do everything they can to make it happen. But if they are told what to do, there is no emotional investment for them.”
A good piece of advice from Afonso is to keep talking to family and friends about what they don’t like about their job. He listens to their complaints and wonders: “what is happening there and what is missing?” and tries to make sure it’s not missing from NetNada. He also takes advantage of the small size of his team to really get to know each person, including questions about their family.
“We do a lot of international work with employees from all over the world and getting to know the nuances of the culture, asking about what’s happening in their country, their holidays, et cetera, really goes a long way in bringing family in to make the business happen. he adds. “It’s important to bring that sense of belonging to the workplace.”
Continuous innovation is one of the keys to growth, so leave room in your budget and your working day to play with new ideas.
Use your team to brainstorm new concepts, research new markets, test product ideas, and solicit customer feedback. Formalize the process by implementing a product development process and strategy.
“I would say try everything because if someone comes in and says, oh, I know what can improve your business, they have no idea what they are saying, so just try everything and one of them will work,” says Jozef.
Want to grow your SaaS business? Go to parallo.com to see how they can help accelerate your growth.
Check out the full 2023 Tech Playbook From Idea to Unicorn session here:
Idea for unicorn
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This article is brought to you by Startup Daily in partnership with Parallo.