Scaling Your Business Without Losing Your Culture

My Post105.jpgAside from “innovation,” few buzzwords carry as little real meaning in Silicon Valley and the broader tech sector than “culture.”

While countless startups and established companies alike have seized upon the idea of corporate culture as a vehicle of employee attraction and a way to differentiate themselves in crowded markets, culture remains one of the most crucial aspects of your organization.

So how do you cultivate and maintain a strong, ethical corporate culture when you’re trying to scale?

In this article, we’ll be taking a look at what companies actually mean when they talk about culture, as well as ways to foster your corporate culture as a direct reflection of your company’s brand values.

First, let’s talk about what culture really means.

Healthy, Productive Cultures Don’t Just Happen

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about culture—at least as it pertains to companies and brands—is that, even if you do nothing, a culture will emerge across your organization. Once we understand this, it becomes easier to see that culture is a result of actions, decisions, and direct actions.

Put another way, strong corporate cultures don’t just “happen.” We have to make them happen.

This is surprisingly difficult even in the early stages of small companies. Think about it for a second. If workplace culture is an extension of a company’s brand values, who decides what those values are? Once that’s been figured out, how do you actually disseminate these ideas and values across your organization?

You could be forgiven for thinking that the CEO or founders are responsible for identifying and shaping a company’s values as well as ensuring that every employee understands these principles. The problem with this approach is that it’s up to a single individual to arbitrarily decide what the entire company’s values are and adopt a top-down approach to implementing those values. This is fine if your company aspires to be the personal fiefdom of a control-freak CEO, but for companies that want to cultivate and nurture genuinely meaningful corporate cultures, it’s completely, wildly unrealistic.

What We Really Mean When We Talk About ‘Culture’

One way to think about culture is to see it as “our way of life.” As you can probably imagine, this covers virtually every single aspect of a company and its operations, from large, intangible brand values to how your customer support teams answer the phone or respond to email.

Culture encompasses big and small things, such as:

  • The products we build and how we ship them
  • The way we communicate internally and externally
  • The messages we choose not to send—and why
  • The incentives we use to motivate our staff
  • The behaviors we exhibit every day
  • The boundaries that, if crossed, have meaningful consequences
  • The speed at which serious problems are escalated to someone who can solve them
  • The speed at which those problems are acted upon
  • The way we dress and the symbols we display
  • The ways in which we celebrate victories
  • The things that make us proud, and the things that bring us shame
  • The things that upset us, and the things that bring us joy
  • The things we do to grow as individuals and as teams
  • The way we perceive ourselves and our role in a company

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things that fall under the umbrella of corporate culture. It is, however, a way to start thinking beyond Casual Fridays and ping-pong tables as being representative of the cultures we create.

Our companies—and our people—deserve better.

Action + Communication = Values

One of the major challenges to establishing and maintaining a strong, cohesive corporate culture is the fact that many companies rely on at least partially distributed teams. It’s hard enough to foster and cultivate an inclusive culture at a growing company without tossing remote workers and asynchronous communication into the mix. – Read more

Seva snares $2.4M seed investment to find info across cloud services

My Post (5).jpgSeva, a New York City startup, that wants to help customers find content wherever it lives across SaaS products, announced a $2.4 million seed round today.

Avalon Ventures led the round with participation from Studio VC and Datadog founder and CEO Olivier Pomel.

Company founder and CEO Sanjay Jain says that he started this company because he felt the frustration personally of having to hunt across different cloud services to find the information he was looking for. When he began researching the idea for the company, he found others who also complained about this fragmentation.

“Our fundamental vision is to change the way that knowledge workers acquire the information they need to do their jobs from one where they have to spend a ton of time actually seeking it out to one where the Seva  platform can prescribe the right information at the right time when and where the knowledge worker actually needs it, regardless of where it lives.”

Seva, which is currently in Beta, certainly isn’t the first company to try to solve this issue. Jain believes that with a modern application of AI and machine learning and single sign-on, Seva can provide a much more user-centric approach than past solutions simply because the technology wasn’t there yet.

The way they do this is by looking across the different information types. Today they support a range of products including Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive,, Box, Dropbox, Slack and JIRA, Confluence. Jain says they will be adding additional services over time. – read more

Why are SaaS companies so hot right now?

My Post (3).jpgIt just took Wall Street a while to fall in love with recurring revenue for business software.

You can see Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, sharing how Wall Street viewed SaaS in 2015 at SaaStr Annual right after they IPO’d in this quick video: “Did institutional buyers understand SaaS?” “A: They’re working on it”

Box was early to IPO of the next generation of B2B leaders, though.

The power of high customer revenue retention for 10+ years COMBINED with the fact that SaaS actually allowed companies like Adobe and Microsoft to dramatically increase the lifetime value of the customers (by getting more money in years 3–10+ while trading off less in years 1 and 2) … just took a while for everyone to get their arms around.

It’s Years 3–10+ of the customer lifetime where the power of SaaS recurring revenue business models starts to show up in the top line, and often Year 10+ in the cash flows.

It was harder to see all this in 2015 if you weren’t deep in the trenches yourself.

I wrote this in 2014 and the world laughed: Box Will Hit $1 Billion In Revenues Before You Know It

But now they all get it.

SaaS is a 20+ annuity. If you do it right.

Wall Street loves this now. – read more

Best Practices in Customer Success in 2018: Maximizing Revenue, NPS and Happiness

My Post (4)This session with leaders in the customer success space discusses best practices for your customer success teams in 2018.

They talk about when to hire your VP of Customer Success, qualities to look for in your team and how to ask for feedback at the best times in the customer journey. After all, Jason Lemkin says 90% of your revenue goes into customer success. – read more


What is the best way for a SaaS company to deal with long sales cycles?

  • My Post (2).jpgShorten them up a bit.
  • Don’t fear paid pilots or smaller deployments. Prove yourself and put a few nickels in the bank.
  • And then — just get used to it.

$100k+ deals often take more than a quarter to close.

$1m+ deals often taken more than a year.

Bigger deals generally take longer. But a great VP of Sales with enterprise experience will help — and perhaps shorten sales cycles 30%. That will make a difference.

Ultimately, while long sales cycles are super stressful in the early days — you want to put points up, and cash in — in the long run, they don’t matter that much. Eventually, you have 10, 20, then 100 bigger deals all in the pipeline. You’ll close them in a staggered fashion over the coming quarters. And you’ll even be glad to have a high visibility pipeline. And it will be OK. – read more

Celonis brings intelligent process automation software to cloud

My Post.jpgCelonis has been helping companies analyze and improve their internal processes using machine learning.

Today the company announced it was providing that same solution as a cloud service with a few nifty improvements you won’t find on prem.

The new approach, called Celonis  Intelligent Business Cloud, allows customers to analyze a workflow, find inefficiencies and offer improvements very quickly. Companies typically follow a workflow that has developed over time and very rarely think about why it developed the way it did, or how to fix it. If they do, it usually involves bringing in consultants to help. Celonis puts software and machine learning to bear on the problem.

Co-founder and CEO Alexander Rinke says that his company deals with massive volumes of data and moving all of that to the cloud makes sense. “With Intelligent Business Cloud, we will unlock that [on prem data], bring it to the cloud in a very efficient infrastructure and provide much more value on top of it,” he told TechCrunch.

The idea is to speed up the whole ingestion process, allowing a company to see the inefficiencies in their business processes very quickly. Rinke says it starts with ingesting data from sources such as Salesforce or SAP and then creating a visual view of the process flow. There may be hundreds of variants from the main process workflow, but you can see which ones would give you the most value to change, based on the number of times the variation occurs. – Read more

Is it possible to sell a SaaS product without a well established brand?

My Post (8).jpgWell of course it is 🙂

The question is, how do you get past the brands? Brands are incredibly powerful because they are the default choice.

But there’s good news: there are veteran buyers in every space and category in SaaS now.Veterans who have already bought and deployed applications in your space … and found a critical gap they want filled.

Something they really, really need a core product to do that the leaders don’t do.

And a subset of those veterans will search out an emerging vendor that maybe is pretty so-so at most functions, is quite lacking in some key areas … but solves their #1 gap in the space.

They’ll buy from you if you solve their problem. And if you let these veterans know who you are — through PR, blogs, podcast, press, SEO, SEM, events, tradeshows, outbound, cold calls, emails, WhatsApps, Slack Channels, try everything — some will reach out to you. If you really solve that critical gap in a critical problem / solution. – Read more

4 areas of SMB operation that benefit the most from SaaS

My Post (7).jpgSmall to midsize businesses move towards Software-as-a-Service in a digital-first landscape.

Today’s competitive business landscape has companies looking to technology to find some advantage. Many are compelled to undergo digital transformation to become more efficient in their business processes. But even newer companies often struggle to determine what components ought to comprise their “tech stacks.”

For smaller ventures, this process can be especially overwhelming. With limited resources, leaders and IT officers of these smaller operations have to effectively manage how they adopt and implement various digital solutions. This forces some to keep things analog or make do with the limited functionalities of traditional on-premises and offline solutions.

Fortunately, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to powerful features previously found only in enterprise-grade, custom-developed software. Today, the maturity of the SaaS ecosystem allows businesses to simply subscribe online and get immediate access to apps, instead of having to invest significant capital upfront, purchasing the necessary infrastructure, software licenses and setup services.

For legacy SMBs that are especially strapped for resources, or that are especially skeptical about the value of these tools, it’s also possible to incrementally and selectively migrate processes to SaaS. The diversity and functional specialization of the apps available allows companies to experiment with and get accustomed to digital workflows, one operational aspect at a time. This also enables them to identify and cherry pick the business areas where these solutions have the potential for the most dramatic immediate impact. – read more

How much would you pay an affiliate to your SaaS product and for how long?

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A rough rule of thumb is it’s a good deal for both sides if you pay an affiliate what it would cost you to acquire that lead on your own.

An approximately way to think about that:

  • 35%-40% of first year ACV (Annual Contract Value) if they bring you a closed, signed lead. It would cost you that much to acquire and close that lead yourself.
  • 15%-20% of first year ACV if they bring you a true Opportunity. I.e., if they do the marketing part, but not the sales part.
  • 10% or so for a Lead. Much more than this, without deep qualification of the Lead, gets expensive.

And generally speaking, note you probably need to pay your sales teams on even “closed” leads send to you (i.e., the first category), so the real cost will be higher to you.

And of course, this model assumes a long customer lifetime. These numbers are too high in a higher-churn environment. But you can just adjust them there to a shorter customer value (instead of ACV), and keep the percentages about the same.

In the end, affiliates are a marketing channel. Pay them what you’d pay your own marketing team and you probably come out ahead. Tweak from there. – Read more

Why Blissfully decided to go all in on serverless

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Serverless has become a big buzzword of late, and with good reason. It has the potential to completely alter how developers write code.

They can simply write a series of event triggers, while letting the cloud vendor worry about providing whatever amount of compute resources are required to complete the job. It represents a huge shift in how programs are developed, but it’s been difficult to find companies who were built from the ground up using this methodology because it’s fairly new.

Blissfully, a startup that helps customers manage their Software-as-a-Service usage inside their companies, is one company that decided to do just that. Aaron White, co-founder and CTO, says that when he was building early versions of Blissfully,  he found he needed quick bursts of compute power to deliver a list of all the SaaS products an organization is using.

He figured he could set aside a bunch of servers to provide that burst of power as needed, but that would have required a ton of overhead on his part to manage. At this point, he was a lone programmer trying to prove his SaaS management idea was even possible. As he looked at the pros and cons of serverless versus traditional virtual machines, he began to see serverless as a viable approach.

What he learned along the way was that serverless offers many advantages to a company with a bursty approach like Blissfully, scaling up and down as needed. But it isn’t perfect and there are issues around management and tooling and handling the pros and cons of that scaling ability that he had to learn about on the fly, especially coming in as early as he did with this approach.

Serverless makes sense

Blissfully is a service where serverless made a lot of sense. It wouldn’t have to manage or pay for servers it wasn’t using. Nor would it have to worry about the underlying infrastructure at all. That would be up to the cloud provider, and it would only pay for the bursts as they happened.

Serverless  is actually a misnomer, in that it doesn’t mean there are no servers. It actually means you don’t have to set up servers in order to run your program, which is a pretty mind-blowing transformation. In traditional programming you have to write your code and set up all the underlying hardware ahead of time, whether it’s in your data center or in the cloud. With serverless, you just write the code and the cloud provider handles all of that for you.

The way it works in practice is that programmers set up a series of event triggers, so when a certain thing happens, the cloud provider sees this and provides the necessary resources on demand. Most of the cloud vendors are offering this type of service, whether AWS Lambda, Azure Functions or Google Functions.

At this point, White began to think about serverless as a way of freeing him from thinking about managing and maintaining infrastructure and all that entailed. “I started thinking, let’s see how far we can take this. Can we really do absolutely everything serverless, and if so that reduces a ton of traditional DevOps-style work you have to do in practice. There’s still plenty, but that was the thinking at the beginning,” he said.

Overcoming obstacles

But there were issues, especially getting into serverless as early as he did. For starters, White needed to find developers who could work in this fashion, and in 2016 when it launched there weren’t a large number of people out there with serverless skills. White said he wasn’t looking for direct experience so much as people who were curious to learn and were flexible enough to deal with new technology, regardless of how Blissfully implemented that. – Read more