Category: strategy

Posts

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30 May / sales / strategy / SaaS / management
Imagine a hypothetical startup with 10 account executives that is growing quickly. This startup has two AEs that outperform meaningfully, six that are at typical quota attainment, and two that are underperforming. Where should your sales enablement team focus their time? This is the team's performance last year. They generated 8.6M in bookings on 10M in quota capacity (which is really good). Most teams aim for 70-75% attainment. If the sales enablement teams had focus on the top quartile AEs and improve their performance by 20%, the company would have booked $9.
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In a world where there are no secrets, where innovations are quickly imitated or become obsolete, the theory of competitive advantage may have had its day. Realistically, ask yourself, If all your competitors gave their strategic plans to each other, would it really make a difference? In 1986, Amar Bhide wrote “Hustle as Strategy” for the Harvard Business Review. At the time, he was an assistant professor at HBS.
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26 March / saas / strategy
In early and developing markets, selling complete products is often a superior go to market strategy, rather than selling an innovation in a layer in the stack. This is true for five reasons. First, for early customers to generate value from a novel technology, that technology must solve a business problem completely. End-to-end products do that. Layers in the stack don't. They optimize existing systems. In early markets, customers want to buy a car, not a better camshaft.
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11 December / sales / strategy / saas
If you have one marketing dollar to spend on your startup's growth, should you spend it on acquiring a new customer or on expanding an existing customer? Mining the existing customer base for customer expansion seems very logical. Customers know your product and your sales team, so increasing the account value should be easier. Plus, the strategy is successful in practice. The PacCrest survey suggests upsell drives somewhere between 8-26% of new bookings for SaaS companies, depending on the scale of the business.
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04 December / best practices / strategy / product / books
I’ve wondered what it’s like to work at Apple. I’ve read books and articles about Steve Jobs and the turbulence the company experienced. Ken Kocienda co-wrote the Safari browser and developed the first iPhone keyboard. His book, Creative Selection, is the first book that provides a view of the day to day environment at Apple. It’s full of wisdom. These are my learnings from the book. There are few brainstorming sessions at Apple because ideas are difficult to debate.
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03 December / strategy / product / saas
Customers will pay you to build your SaaS product. It's one of the great advantages of a SaaS model. Annual prepay contracts - wherein customers pay for a year's cost on day - is a free loan from customers. And every startup can benefit from this advance. There's only one requirement: you must be able to sell your product while you're building it. Step 1 is reaching product market fit, the point at which some group of potential customers will pay.
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01 October / strategy / saas / sales
In early markets, customers prefer entire solutions, not best in class point products. These solutions often include significant professional services and education. At the beginning of a new wave, most customers don't understand the technology well. So, they seek experts to guide them. Companies that provide services and education often win the early market. They develop customer relationships, reinforce their expertise with a strong brand, define the purchasing criteria in their favor and ultimately grow faster.
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06 May / management / strategy
At Redpoint's annual investor meeting earlier this year, I quipped, “The day-trading taxi drivers of the dotcom era have been replaced by crypto-trading Uber drivers.” But over the weekend, a grizzled Uber driver with a mane of grey hair and wind-and-sunburnt cheeks asked me about crypto. “Can you explain to me why public key/private key technology is important on the Blockchain?” He pointed out the Bitcoin ATM that charges 10% from his cigarette-infused Prius.
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20 February / financials / strategy
What should be the return on investment of a startup's cash burn? Fred Wilson posed this question last year in his post Some Thoughts on Burn Rates. In that post, he suggests, and I agree, that a 5x ROI on cash burn is a good target. How does one calculate ROI? It's a simple formula: Cash_Burn_ROI = Revenue_Multiple/Revenue_Pay_Back_in_Years1If a business is worth 7x revenues and revenue payback is 14 months, the burn ROI is 6x or 7 / 1.
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01 January / strategy / startups / saas / books
There's a crisis in the scientific academic world. It's called the Replication Crisis. Scientists have found that they cannot replicate the results published by many scientific studies. The same thing is happening in the world of business. Over the last 15 years I've read several hundred business books, and I've written one. Across those 15 years, one of the most interesting is a book called The Management Myth, which traces the history of management science back to its less than solid origins.
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19 November / strategy
In the eleventh episode of Masters of Scale, Reid Hoffman interviews Peter Thiel. The episode revolves around the idea that to truly succeed, a startup must not beat the competition, but break free of competition entirely. The episode has many great points, but the one that stood out most to me is the idea of false competition. You could say that Coke and Pepsi compete very intensely, on the other hand you could say that there's somehow quite differentiated from a brand so that in practice different people prefer Coke or prefer Pepsi and they're actually is a much smaller set of people who view them as interchangeable products.
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06 September / sales / strategy / saas
One of the most difficult go-to-market strategies for startups is platform. Platform go to markets mean selling software that can do many things, depending on the customer need. Selling a platform is challenging for five reasons. First, most customers buy software to solve a particular and immediate problem. When pitching a platform, the potential buyer has to imagine what the platform can do for them. On the other hand, point solutions present a more concrete alternative of what is, rather than what could be.
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23 August / saas / strategy / trends
A founder asked me if we had reached the point that SaaS is commodified. “Can you build a venture scale SaaS company anymore?” He made three key points to support the argument. First, the technology barriers to starting a SaaS company continue to fall. Amazon, Google and Microsoft provide sophisticated, scalable, and easy to use infrastructure as a service. Next-generation machine learning tools are also available by API and improving all the time.
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13 August / fundraising / strategy
“Would you compare a bootstrapped SaaS company to a seeded company? At what point does the bootstrapped company have to raise if it's profitable, if ever?” One founder asked me this question recently. I hesitate to compare and contrast bootstrapped and venture backed businesses, because I'm a venture capitalist and it's very easy to dismiss any analysis as biased in favor of venture investment. As I've said countless times, there are many ways of building a very successful business.
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08 August / sales / marketing / saas / strategy
At some point in the life of most SaaS companies, the business will be faced with the question, when should we move up market? The strategic question might be catalyzed by increasing cost of customer acquisition in the core SMB segment. Alternatively, a surge of large customers paying for the product might trigger the question. Or account executives might raise it. Whatever the reason, this is a key strategic question.
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04 July / strategy
Michael Porter wrote the seminal book on strategy in the early 1980s. Called Competitive Strategy, I think it should be required for anyone starting a company. Strategy is a seemingly murky amorphous intangible concept, but Porter brilliantly prescribes the five questions strategy should answer. What are the answers for your business? What is your distinctive value proposition? This distinctive value proposition comprises three key parts. Which customers will you serve? Which needs of those customers will you fulfill better than the competition?
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19 June / exits / strategy
Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods is notable for many reasons. Of course, there's the magnitude $13.7B. The second is the shockwaves reverberating through the grocery industry. Costco fell 10% and Kroger almost 25% on the news. Third, the acquisition underscores the importance of physical retail even to the largest American ecommerce giant. Those are all remarkable in their own right. However, the most interesting part of this acquisition is that it marks the current apotheosis of technology's impact in the broader economy.
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When I was taught Michael Porter's value chain analysis, I learned to analyze at the industry level. A beer supplier sells to wholesaler sells to distributor sales to retailers sells to customer. But as I went back last night and reread Porter's Competitive Strategy, I was surprised to learn that Porter's intended value chain analysis to be used also at the business unit and at the company level. The more interesting of the two for startups is the company level.
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13 April / strategy / sales / marketing / saas
A friend recently asked, “Which path is better for SaaS startups? SMB to mid-market to enterprise or straight to enterprise?” It's a key strategic question for many founders building software companies. Startups that initially target small to medium businesses benefit from several key advantages. First, these businesses are faster to revenue. Simpler products satisfy SMBs, so startups can begin to charge smaller customers much sooner than enterprise customers in a product development lifecycle.
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17 March / sales / strategy
There are three kinds of software value propositions. Software that increases revenue, software that reduces cost, and software that promises improved productivity. To maximize the effectiveness of your customer success efforts, you need to understand which type of software company you are building. Software that increases revenue is the easiest to sell. For most companies, growth is the most important priority. Growth trumps cost-reduction because growth increases the value of the business more.
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10 February / strategy / saas / startups
One of the hardest thing to do in sales, especially for early stage SaaS companies, is to disqualify customers. When a startup disqualifies a customer, they turn away a revenue opportunity, a chance to add $1k of MRR or $3k of MRR, and meaningfully grow the top line. But if the customer isn't the right customer, that incremental revenue bears a hidden cost. In the earliest days of the business, those potential customers waving checks promise an attractive revenue boost.
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23 October / strategy
Startups fail when they run out of money. Startups run out of money when they lack focus. Without a maniacal focus on serving customer needs in a unique way, startups can flounder amidst competition. Without product market fit, the business is challenged to generate strong metrics and faces fundraising challenges. That's why it's critical to identify and focus on your startup's competitive advantage. most of the time, start up competitive advantages fallen to five categories: product, cost, positioning, distribution and execution.
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14 September / strategy
When an SMB SaaS startup is young with quickly growing revenues, more of the same works. A $1M ARR SaaS startup with an average selling price of $750 per year needs to add 1,333 each year on average to double. Fast-forward two years when the company is at $5M in ARR and the business needs to be adding 13,333 customers each year. At $25M in ARR, suddenly the 100% growth figure demands 33,333 customers.
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27 July / saas / startups / strategy
McKinsey released a study of high growth software companies entitled Grow Fast or Die Slow. One salient conclusion: If a software company grows at 20% annually, it has a 92 percent chance of ceasing to exist within a few years. In other words, software companies must grow quickly to survive. Slow growing businesses suffer from the lack of oxygen that fuels growth. Raising money is more expensive. Hiring becomes challenging.
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21 March / strategy
What are your top three priorities in your job right now? If I asked you that question, I suspect within a minute or two you could articulate them. Is the software you are selling at your SaaS startup solving one of those three needs for your target customer? And, if it is, does your software meaningfully differentiate along one of the key competitive axes that your customer cares about? No one has enough time in their jobs to attend to the fifth or sixth most important thing today.
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09 April / saas / management / strategy
See also: Innovator's Solution for SaaS Startups There's a familiar path now to SaaS companies that start in the SMB (small-to-medium business) part of the market. Over time, they seem to inevitably begin serving larger customers. Box, Hubspot, Zendesk and among many others have exhibited this pattern. Why does this happen? I believe we're seeing Clay Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma at play. In short, new startups leverage a distribution advantage to acquire SMB customers at scale.
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23 June / trends / strategy
Jill LePore's New Yorker polemic “The Disruption Machine” attempts to debunk the incredibly popular Innovator's Dilemma, a theory written by HBS professor Clayton Christensen. I've been reading the debate around it with some interest. It's becoming a really interesting conversation but I think the debate is focused on the wrong thing - whether or not these ideas are absolutely correct, even axiomatic. They aren't always true. But that doesn't mean these concepts are useless.
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10 April / strategy / startups
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The key for startup strategy selection is matching distribution strengths with market segments. It’s possible to build successful businesses serving any of these segments individually or a combination.
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