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At a recent meeting, David Barrett, one of the founders of Expensify, drew this diagram when explaining his company’s structure. He has overlaid the core teams of a company with a conversion funnel. It’s brilliantly simple. As every SaaS startup transitions from development to growth, the company must supplement the engineering and product capability with sales, marketing and account management. This diagram is the simplest way to show how they work together harmoniously at a strategic level.
The throwaway line in pitches these days is “we’ll sell our data.” Most of the time, this notion is wrong. Data is the most valuable outcome of building a successful product. It’s the insight, the secret, the keys to the kingdom. Don’t sell the keys to the kingdom.
Data provides economies of scale and insights used to develop huge barriers to entry and it should be kept within an organization. Internal data use is the path to building a huge business.
SMB SaaS companies cannot afford to pay for distribution. At 2 to 4% conversion to paid rates and $5 to $10 monthly subscription fees, the breakeven CPC for these products on search is $0.40. The average Google click costs three times this and the iOS average cost-per-install is more than twice as expensive. The most successful SMB SaaS companies (Zendesk, Expensify, Square) build communities to drive distribution. Those communities reinforce and build a brand.
Culturally, we tend to associate leadership with extroversion and attach less importance to judgment, vision and mettle. We prize leaders who are eager talkers over those who have something to say.
Must great leaders be gregarious?
Susan Cain wrote an OpEd this weekend in the Times containing the quote above. In Silicon Valley, the culture seems very much to embrace the idea of introverted leadership. One might even say the two kinds of leaders live in harmony.
Last year, I set a goal of adding 100 followers each week starting at 2000. I crossed the 3500 follower mark on Twitter this week. I’ve fallen a bit behind that goal but I have a wonderful group of people who actively engage with me on Twitter who are interested in the same things I am.
As I’ve been cultivating this audience and community, I kept asking myself a question: who are most of these followers?
When serving B2B customers, your pricing will be dictated by your customers' margins. The more money they make, the more they can pay for new technology. Most businesses fund new initiatives including marketing and technology projects from profits. The more profits a company generates the greater their willingness to pay for services and ultimately the larger the market size for a startup.
Let’s compare the margins of grocery stores to restaurants to software companies to prove the point.
“Facebook has built the cities, they’ve built the town squares” Dave Morin, founder of Path
Is building a social network is like building a city? I watched Urbanize, a documentary describing urban design and the affordances cities must make to cultivate vibrant communities. The words of urban designers echoed many of the challenges faced by networks as they grow. First, both must balance growth and community. Growing a city from 1M to 10M is like adding 900 semi-close friends to your top 100.
It’s a common refrain that venture backed IPOs have struggled in the past decade. For a long time, I believed and wrote supporting arguments underscoring the idea that the principal causes of this decline were Sarbanes-Oxley costs, decreasing equity coverage and decimalization of exchanges. But that’s wrong.
A paper published earlier this year uses statistics to debunk these hypotheses. In “Where have all the IPOs gone?”, a team of statisticians concludes small cap tech IPOs are struggling because today’s public candidates aren’t profitable when then file.
There is a Branch called Do platforms need to give users a number to optimize?
Most platforms do provide a number to optimize: Twitter followers, Facebook friends and so on. These metrics build liquidity in the platform as @satyap, @ev and @hunterwalk point out.
But there isn’t just one type of social metric. There are three. It’s important to distinguish the types of metrics a community can provide for users to optimize, because the community will rally around the metrics the community provides.
Over the weekend, I watched Page One, a documentary which chronicles the turmoil occurring within the New York Times in 2009 and 2010 when newspapers were going out of business all over the country. Many wondered if the Times would also file for bankruptcy.
Three confluent factors spelled imminent demise for the newspaper: the Internet cannibalized subscription revenue, advertising dollars evaporated and news distribution was in upheaval on account of Wikileaks, Twitter, and blogs.