This article is written by Epic Presence.
There comes a point in your startup growth when you move from a few people working in an office to constant expansion. SaaS founders tell stories of moving from a five-person team to suddenly expanding to larger offices two or three times a year. Employees would share desks and sometimes take sales calls in the bathroom for privacy. When you start growing quickly, new and unexpected challenges will arise.
What do you need to know as the founder of a rapidly-growing SaaS company? You need to know how to say no. Here are three things to say no to — and one thing that deserves a yes.
Say No to the Wrong Product Features
One of the biggest mistakes SaaS founders make is trying to offer the perfect product to everyone. They will continue to add new features and tools in hopes of growing their customer base and expanding into new markets.
“[When you start out] the number of customers you have is small enough they all kind of look pretty similar,” Paddle CEO Christian Owens says on our podcast. “When one of them asks for something, it usually makes pretty logical sense to apply to all. As you start to expand the group of customers you’re going after, you will go after different customers who have slightly different needs.”
Owens says that for too long they tried to please everybody rather than getting very specific about the products they offered and what they were good at. Once you know what you should make — and what actually adds value — you can channel your efforts to developing a product, not just more products.
“A lack of clarity on what your product actually needs to do and who it’s meant to appeal to can quickly cause your team to overextend,” says Feri Fekete, cofounder of SaaS development agency VeryCreatives. “A lack of focus on your product’s core features can also fluff up its scope, leading to feature inclusions that simply don’t matter and may even make it less attractive to your intended audience.”
While you think you might attract more companies with more products, the reality is that you will drive away the right customers and confuse the ones that you recently attracted.
Hailey Messenger and Kerri Evans at strategy consulting firm GRAPH give this example: “We recently diligenced a SaaS company that had quickly established itself as the market leader in a relatively nascent, niche category,” they write. “As they grew, they added on additional functionality and features, seemingly inadvertently creeping into a very competitive, saturated market where they had little right to win…it became clear to us in speaking with customers that the company had diluted a previously clear product vision, demonstrating an under-appreciation for the reason customers chose them in the first place.”
Adding too many features is a common flaw. If you are aware of this risk as you enter your product development phase, you can avoid doing too much, spending time and money on irrelevant features.
Say No to the Wrong Customers
One reason why companies build new features is to attract different customers. They might want to break into a specific industry or appease a potentially large acquisition. However, this will likely be a waste of your time.
“A couple of times we took on customers that we probably shouldn’t have for the revenue and, in a number of instances, we were able to make them work out,” says Owens. “In other instances, we learned the hard way that those are the customers you sink a ton of time into at the expense of potentially 10 other customers that would have been in aggregate worth more than that one.”
Instead of pleasing several customers with the product you have, you create a lukewarm experience for a customer outside of your target audience. This lets down your staff and your clients.
“Acquiring customers who do not fit your ideal customer profile can hurt your business in the long run,” says Julien de Vonarkha-Varnak, director of sales development solutions at Salescode. “They’ll figure out soon enough that your solution doesn’t fulfill their need and might drain your support team, or affect your business reputation with poor overall experiences and reviews.”
One way to identify whether you are attracting the wrong customers is to look at your churn rates. What do the customers that you lose have in common? What do they wish you could do to improve — and is it worth your time to try and win them back?
“One of the biggest sources of insight for any SaaS business on why customers churn is from churning customers themselves,” says Angela Wong, senior manager of demand generation at Dropbox. “Even if you’re not getting their money anymore, you can at least learn what turned them off your product to prevent more customers from following in their footsteps.”
Say No to Tasks You Aren’t Good At
Another thing that SaaS founders need to say no to is completing too many tasks themselves. Some people are afraid to give up projects, while others feel like they can do the work better than others. It’s time to let go.
“My job, number one, is to make sure we don’t run out of money and, number two, is to make sure that we have the right people in the business to lead the things that [my business partner and I] individually aren’t very good at,” says Owens. “I think the biggest learning curve for me was to accept the things I’m not good at and the things that I don’t want to do.”
For those who are inexperienced in delegating, handing off tasks can be daunting. However, you can’t keep handling day-to-day assignments as your business grows. That’s fine to do when you have five employees but unsustainable at 50.
“In female-led startups, there also seems to be a gender-role incongruence when it comes to delegating, where women have more negative associations with delegating because of concerns over coming across as being too assertive,” says Krishna Kutty, managing partner and cofounder of Kuroshio Consulting.
To overcome this, Kutty and her cofounder needed to reframe the concept of delegation. First, failing to delegate would hinder their ability to grow the company. Next, it would limit the ability of employees to grow, learn, and expand their career opportunities. If you’re not delegating, you’re holding yourself back and limiting your team.
That being said, it’s not a bad thing to start out doing every task at your company when you are only two or three people working together. This will make you more effective at hiring and managing as you grow.
“It’s much easier to build a team by delegating your tasks than hiring people to do things you have no idea how to do,” says Jose Cayasso, cofounder and CEO at presentation tool Slidebean. “When you know how to do something, you know how long it should take others to do it, which keeps your teams efficient.”
Say Yes to Celebrating Wins
While there is a list of countless things you shouldn’t do as a SaaS founder, there is one positive thing to remember. Every milestone or accomplishment is significant and worth your time to congratulate yourself and your team. Even if you aren’t big on celebrations, do it for the staff that helped you reach your goal.
“You don’t celebrate those wins for you,” says Owens. Instead, you celebrate for your team. “It’s not fair on [the people you hire] to skip over the things that they work so hard for.”
A SaaS founder is motivated naturally because the company is their passion project or livelihood. As you grow, you are more likely to take on employees who see this as just a job, and you will need to motivate them. Verbal praise, team celebrations and company-wide events can all help to excite your team about your growth milestones.
“When employees are rewarded for their contributions, they feel ownership and pride and are willing to work just as hard on their next project,” says Natalie Wickham, vice president of marketing at Quantum Workplace. “Recognition connects them to the organization, elevates performance, and increases the likelihood they’ll stay.”
Everyone has their own key lessons from the first years of running a SaaS company. However, there are a few common threads that tie startup founders together. By learning from these growing pains, you can delegate better, focus on the right product features and find a loyal audience for your products. With these factors in place, you can move toward growth.
Our return to Dublin will bring with it many ways you can connect with likeminded people and peers in SaaS. Find out 10 ways how we’re facilitating human connections (not just meetings) at SaaStock 2022 in Dublin. Read our blog post.
Get your tickets to SaaStock 2022 in Dublin this October, to experience:
“The best SaaS conference for SaaS founders, VCs and execs in Europe. Period.” – Christoph Janz, Managing Partner, Point Nine