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In the car yesterday, I listened to an interview with Eugene Wei, who described the dynamics of consumer technology as if they were plain as day. It’s rare to hear someone lucidly describe complex topics like the reasons for Twitter’s success and struggles. Eugene wrote many of his ideas in this post though there are some ideas that I found only in the podcast.
Eugene was an early PM at Amazon, SVP of Product and Marketing at Hulu, Head of Product at Flipboard, and Head of Video at Oculus.
I’m thrilled to welcome Travis Bryant as an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) to Redpoint. I first heard Travis speak at a technology conference a few years ago. I noticed then that his thinking on go-to-market strategy is among the most modern in Startupland because it combines all of the key aspects of SaaS go-to-market in novel ways.
Travis started his career in technology as an Oracle database administrator but moved into sales. He became VP of Commercial Sales at Salesforce, then SVP Sales at Optimizely and helped them grow from single digits to tens of millions of ARR.
In 2015, I wrote about the trade-off facing vertical SaaS companies. Vertical SaaS companies focus their efforts on a particular group of customers. Procore targets construction with their software and Veeva targets pharmaceuticals with their CRM. This concentration limits the market size, but improves product market fit. Both of those businesses are now worth more than $3B. There is a new twist in SaaS with a parallel dynamic.
I’ve started to call them AI Agencies.
In their book,It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37Signals share how they’ve built and run their very successful company Basecamp. There’s a novel idea in the book: your company is a product used by its employees.
[W]hen you think of the company as a product, you ask different questions: Do people who work here know how to use the company?
In the public stock market, share repurchases/buybacks have reached more than $1 trillion in 2018, a historic high. As the amount of private capital increases, share repurchases in startups are popping up. Typically, they are a very inefficient use of capital.
A share repurchase occurs when the company uses cash on its balance sheet to buy shares from an existing shareholder, typically an employee or an early investor.
For public companies, buying shares is a way of using excess capital to increase the earnings per share (EPS) and other metrics that investors care about.
How far along was the typical SaaS Series A in 2018? The median business was at $1.8M in ARR and growing at 250%. The chart below shows a representative sample of SaaS Series As’ ARR and projected ARR growth rate for 2018.
Breaking this down a bit more into quartiles, the ARR quartiles were:
25th 50th 75th 1.4 1.8 3.0 And the ARR growth rate quartiles were:
Reading the news in the past week made me wonder. Just where are we pricing SaaS companies today? The Nasdaq and the S&P have toyed with a bear market. Many stocks are down 10 to 50%. Absolute valuations are one consideration, but let’s understand it at a deeper level. Have multiples compressed?
The answer is yes, they have, but enterprise value to forward revenue multiples are still at some of the highest levels for SaaS companies in the past eight years.
Here are some predictions for 2019 and a review of my thoughts for 2018, many of which were wrong.
The M&A market slows meaningfully, especially at the multi-billion dollar level. The recent seasickness in the public markets forces most CEOs adopt a more conservative approach to acquisitions. Facing large swings in valuation, these leaders may struggle to advocate and articulate that large acquisitions are accretive and will be immediately rewarded by share appreciation after an acquisition.
The five most popular posts of 2018 were:
The Strategic Shift in Revenue for SaaS Startups as They Scale - or popular by any other post by a factor of 10, this post discusses the importance of focusing on renewals as a business reaches $10M, $20M and beyond in ARR. The dynamics of retention meaningfully change the way the business ought to be managed.
Ten Year’s Worth of Learnings About Pricing - This post is a summary of a presentation I gave to the executive team at Twilio.
These are my ten favorite books from 2018.
The (Mis)Behavior of Markets - Written by Benoit Mandelbrot, the Belgian mathematician who pioneered fractals, this book and theory inspired Naseem Taleb. It’s a powerful book on the uncertain nature of financial turbulence.
Creative Selection - Ken Kocienda, a former Apple engineer who co-authored Safari and the iPhone keyboard, writes about culture at Apple. Among other insights, he discusses the most effective ways to brainstorm with teams - it’s not with ideas.