How 60+ SaaS founders and CEOs have adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, remote work, and a market downturn21 min read

How 60+ SaaS founders and CEOs have adapted to the challenges of COVID-19, remote work, and a market downturn

We know how essential it is for SaaS and startup founders to connect and learn from one another – especially in times of crisis or when new challenges arise.

To try and help our community of SaaS founders and execs, I reached out to over 60 founders and CEOs, to find out what their biggest challenges are right now, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the effect it’s had on market conditions. I also asked how they’re adapting to these challenges, and what advice they’d offer fellow SaaS founders.

45% of SaaS founders have been struggling with slowed revenue.

34% of founders say their toughest challenge is staying close to their customers.

And 32% of founders reported that their top priority – and biggest challenge – is maintaining team morale in a forced-remote environment. 

This article brings together insights from 25 SaaS founders and CEOs, and at the end you can find the full list of 60+ incredible founders who replied to me. I’d love to include them all here – but as you can see this article’s already pretty long!

A | B | C | D | F | G | J | K | M | N | P | S | T | V | See full list

Adrien Menard – CEO and Co-founder at Botify

Botify is the first unified suite of applications assisting Enterprise SEO stakeholders in each phase of the organic search process including technical SEO, content and real keywords. Often referred to as the “advanced version of Google Search Console”.

Biggest challenge(s)

Staying close to customers

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“The voice of our customers is at the heart of any action decided to improve our product. There’s literally nothing developed without talking to customers or prospects.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Focus on your customers and your teams. There are your most valuable assets to go through the storm.”

Al Fernando Williams – Director, Enterprise EMEA at New Relic, Inc.

New Relic is the industry’s largest and most comprehensive cloud-based observability platform built to help customers create more perfect software.

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers; maintaining team morale.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Managing Remote teams – Set expectations and gain buy-in early (how will we stay connected and productive), daily/bi-daily check-ins (BlueJeans/Slack/WhatsApp), weekly team meetings (team should leave the meeting being clear on their focus for the week), 

Staying close to customers – 5Cs – Connect, Collaborate, Create, Culture, Community. I use these from a leadership perspective internally but then also transferred this externally

Connect – lead with empathy, don’t try to sell try to understand (challenges, what’s changing, how can we help)

Maintaining team morale – this goes back to individual and team motivations, a sense of community and doing things a little differently sometimes. 1:1s and team meetings don’t always have to be focussed on work, sometimes it’s zooming out to look at how each person is experiencing the current situation.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Don’t make permanent decisions based on temporary problems or emotions.”

Ben McCarthy – Founder at Salesforce Ben

Salesforce Ben was founded in 2014 to create a community of writers who have something to share about Salesforce. You will find posts about Administration, Development, Certifications and Careers, all from posters with varied experiences and backgrounds.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; maintaining team morale

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Identifying industries that need our services in the wake of the new norm.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Start working out what the new normal looks like for your business.”

Collin Stewart – Co-CEO at Predictable Revenue

Predictable Revenue teaches companies how to double or triple (or more) new sales. Their framework was conceived at one of the most successful startup companies – Salesforce.com. 

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers; slowed revenue; extending runway; pivoting business model; churn.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“We took a hard look at our expenses and scaled back on investments that weren’t living up to expectations.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Talk to your customers. Demand seems to be shifting. People still may want your product but the context (their why) has probably changed. We’ve seen many go from a win-at-all-costs mindset to a profitable-growth mindset which has impacted how we talk to prospects and the products they’re interested in.”

Daan Reijnders – CEO & Co-founder at Foleon

Foleon (formerly Instant Magazine) is the world’s first tool for creating full responsive digital magazines and digital publications that are optimized for smartphone, tablet, desktop and Smart TV.

Biggest challenge(s)

Pivoting business model; churn

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“From day one we have a horizontal product that matches a lot of use cases in a lot of industries and company sizes. That makes the data cluttered, decisions for the roadmap harder and the proposition weaker.

We ran a lot of analysis on the data (churn, sales efficiency, expansion, etc), market trends, compelling requests from top notch customers, competitors, and got to a more focussed proposition. Now trying to execute on it. 

But that transition is super frightening. When do we switch completely to that new proposition. Will we say no to revenue coming from other industries?”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Don’t panic. Be more explicit on the value you bring, also in this climate. Be super critical to the quality of your team.”

Duda Bardavid – Co-founder at Drag

Drag turns Gmail into your team’s shared workspace. It provides one single place to support customers, manage tasks and close deals, empowering teams who live and breathe email, to control their work in tool, one place and one way.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue, maintaining team morale, churn.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“I believe that in hard times like this, the worst thing we can do is to isolate ourselves and try to overcome problems on our own. The pandemic is affecting everyone, from (the majority of) businesses to employees, customers and investors. I’ve been trying to stay closer to my main stakeholders and seek for mutual support: 

  1. Learning from others: from roundtables with peer founders to attending webinars or conferences such as SaaStock, I believe there is a lot of knowledge to be exchanged in such environments. 
  2. Being transparent with the team: I’ve always been very transparent with the team. But now, more than ever. Shielding the team in times like this only increases uncertainty and affects their morale so, instead, I’ve been trying, through maximum transparency, to bring them together, with the common goal of going through the crisis the best way. 
  3. Proactively approaching customers: Most of our customers are SMBs, a segment that has been hugely impacted by the pandemic. We’ve been proactively approaching them to listen to their concerns, how their businesses are doing and if we can help with anything. This generates trust and loyalty, and they’ve been very appreciated so far.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Take this opportunity to have a fresh start and reflect about what could be more efficient in your business. Review our product, business model, operating costs, market, team… It’s a good time to work ON the business rather than IN the business.”

Franz Riedl – Founder & COO at Styla

Styla is a next generation content management technology that enables brands and retailers to create inspirational omni-channel experiences that are seamlessly shoppable.

Biggest challenge(s)

Staying close to customers; slowed revenue.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“We try to make up for personal interactions onsite or at events by increasing the frequency of online sessions – always with the camera on so it feels closer to normal. In regards to revenue, it’s more about delayed payment. Our clients waiting for subsidies themselves, sitting on inventory etc – we try to find solutions that work for us and the client- as we believe one should as true partners.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Corona hit different SaaS businesses very differently – don’t take what happened to others as proof of what will happen to you.”

Gal Rimon – CEO & Founder at Centrical

Centrical helps businesses improve employee engagement, proficiency, and performance through gamification, microlearning and performance management.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Slowing revenue is kind of a variation on Newton’s third law. That there’s an equal and opposite reaction. 

Deals are taking longer to close not because our champions at soon-to-be-customer organizations don’t want it to happen. Rather, their management, understandably, is looking everywhere to cut expenses. The procurement operations have put a halt to things. We’ve dealt with that by moving quickly to cut our own expenses, to lower our burn rate. Further, we’ve taken the posture of making decisions that offer quicker ROI. 

In parallel, we’ve stepped up our prospecting but in a highly targeted manner. Make no mistake, we are not waiting for this crisis to turn a corner.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Listen closely to your most difficult customers. They know what success looks like and how to achieve it. Within their own organizations. And for us. They push us to be the best them and for our own sake. 

Fight the tendency to offer a simple explanation for a complicated situation. There’s very little we’ve experienced during this pandemic that can be described with one word responses like “great” or “bad.” Your team, customers, partners, and investors deserve complete, coherent answers.”

Godard Abel – CEO and co-founder at G2

G2 is  the world’s leading B2B software and services review platform.

Biggest challenge(s)

Staying close to customers; maintaining team morale.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Living our PEAK values: keeping our team healthy and focused on delivering PEAK performance for our customers and for each other while facing so much uncertainty

Supporting and retaining customers who are facing severe economic challenges of their own.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Be conscious and follow your divine path.”

Gregory Blondeau – Founder & Director at Proxyclick

Proxyclick is cloud-based visitor management software for enterprise. It manages visitors, from invitation to checkout, helping companies run a smooth reception area in their building.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; maintaining team morale.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Slower growth: Focus on pipeline building, launching new initiatives around outbound and expansion, engaging with key customers and imminent renewals

Team morale: People team talking to everyone 1-1 regularly, company-wide Friday News with all updates of the week, Lab hours once a week (no Slack, no Zoom), 1 day without Zoom or Slack.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Stay positive, share good news, focus on people.” 

Jean-Louis Benard – Founder & CEO at Sociabble

Sociabble is the number one employee communications and advocacy platform. It helps companies turn their employees into an informed, engaged, and influential workforce.

Biggest challenge(s)

Staying close to customers; slowed revenue.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“More CSM meetings with clients to stay top of mind. Create a sense of urgency through unmissable short term opportunities. Align product use with clients’ crisis management.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Keep alignment with all your people:

– early 15mn team meetings everyday (virtual stand up meetings)

– Virtual town hall meetings every week or every 2 week for sharing data, strategy adjustments, and answering questions.”

Karthi Mariappan S – Co Founder and CEO at Hippo Video

Hippo Video is a video marketing platform that enables teams to Record, send & track videos working from home.

Biggest challenge(s)

Maintaining team morale; pivoting business model; fundraising; churn.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Morale of employees through higher purpose

Churn – Survey & Customer success

Business model – small level multiple experiments before investing more.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Reduce Churn, Invest in customer success. Startup is all about experiments and fail fast.”

Mads Fosselius – CEO and Co-founder at Dixa

Dixa is a global customer service tech company on a mission to build stronger bonds between brands and their customers. Their customer service and engagement platform unifies all customer-facing communication across channels in one view. 

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers; maintaining team morale; extending runway; pivoting business model.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Although we’re a SaaS company as well as a customer service platform, which gives us a unique advantage when managing our teams remotely and staying close to customers, we’ve still made extensive changes to our business model and how we work in order to mitigate the current challenges.

‘Customer friendship,’ which to us means being there in a real way for your customers in the most effective and efficient manner, has always been at the core of our company. As well as forming one of our core tenets, this has been a growing business trend even prior to COVID-19. The current crisis has further accelerated this, pushing CX strategy to the very forefront of mission critical measures for brands across industries. This has of course greatly impacted our business, meaning we’re now focusing even more intensely on supporting our existing customers, both in industries that are struggling and ones that are thriving, as well giving our product away for free to new customers. This is a huge shift from where we were at the beginning of the year, prior to COVID-19, gearing up for hyper-growth and focusing on taking over new markets. 

In terms of our own team, we’ve also made changes to how we work, rethinking processes and strategies, putting a great deal of effort into upskilling and creating formal and informal digital spaces for people to connect to make up for the fact that meeting face to face has been impossible.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“The best advice I can give other CEOs at the moment is to double-down on initiatives that are going to enable your company to accelerate as we slowly but surely see the light at the end of the tunnel, and also to think of this crisis as an opportunity to innovate in how you do certain things. Although times are tough, as we’ve seen with the GFC in 2008, there’s also an inherent potential in these types of situations: to create stronger, more sustainable alternatives for the future.”

Mariano Rodriguez Colombelli – CEO and co-founder at Beamer

Beamer is a newsfeed and changelog that helps improve user engagement. Customers use Beamer to announce relevant news, latest features and product updates

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Project collaboration tools, video conferencing.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Don’t stop investing in growth but try to make it sustainable even if the figures are not that impressive – sustainability is key. Be close to your customers. Even as a CEO try to get the time to chat with your users.”

Massimo Arrigoni – CEO at BEE by MailUp Group

BEE aims to be the best drag-&-drop email builder for designing mobile-responsive emails, quickly and easily, anywhere. It is part of the MailUp group.

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers; maintaining team morale.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“We typically do a team retreat in the early summer that is a key event for the company. We have around 40 employees that mostly work remotely (all of them remotely right now, of course). Not being able to get everyone together for a few days impacts the team negatively as being together, getting to know each other in person, doing collaborative sessions on “what’s next”, having fun as a team… these are all things that cement the foundation upon which we build our products, server our customers, and push the business forward. So, we’ll have to reschedule to ‘as soon as safe’”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Be patient. Including with yourself.”

Nick Beck – CEO at Tug Agency

Tug Agency is a digital performance marketing agency. They have offices in London, Berlin, Toronto and Sydney, enabling them to mix local capabilities with international scale to drive real business advantage for their clients.

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Our teams have moved to remote working seamlessly, but to keep them motivated and feeling part of a growing business, we’ve engaged all staff in content creation across channels to promote our services and brand.

To keep close to clients in a world where lunch and after work drinks no longer exist, we’ve instituted a reduction in the amount of emails and increased voice & video communication with key clients.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“In 2020 stay lean, but not at the expense of your brand.  For software, this is the year to gain market share.”

Noel Dykes – Founder & CEO at Frankli

Frankli is tackling the complex & outdated process of performance management, specialising in growing & distributed teams. It provides people-centred software that transforms company cultures.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; extending runway.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Conducting a number of experiments to see how to best engage prospect customers, doubling down on product R&D and actively engaging & prospecting Investors while developing a new set of financial projections & budgets based on slowed revenue due to CV19”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Think long term, build resilience, look after your mental health and surround yourself with experienced advisors who’ve rebuilt or survived significant economic downturn previously. And while it’s important to think long term there is benefit in coming up with more short-term tactical goals (3-6months) & align everyone in your team on these while clearly communicating the importance of these in survival.”

Patrick McDermott – CEO at DigiTally

DigiTally is a cloud-based food stocktaking solution. It allows staff in multiple locations to count stock at the same time, for faster, more accurate stocktaking.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; fundraising

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Getting “out there” more and making use of our contacts database, and speaking to current customers and looking for more opportunities with them.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Spend MAJOR time on the MAJOR tasks. The rest can wait.”

Paul Prendergast – CEO at Blink Parametric

Blink was one of the first InsurTech start-ups to focus on travel insurance. It was acquired in March 2017 by CPPGroup Plc.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; extending runway; pivoting business model.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“By launching new parametric product and service capability (Energy, Climate, Travel, Luggage). By showcasing the adaptability of our proven Blink parametric platform.  It can serve as an Insurance product conduit for Insurtechs worldwide who lack the critical method of service delivery for their solution. By working intensively on new partnership agreements with leading Insurance brands – to be formally announced in the coming months.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“The best advice I ever received regarding innovation was “Keep going!”. Truly there has never been a better time or a greater need for innovation.”

Peter Schlecht – CEO & Founder at Artificial Link

Artificial Link is a Berlin-based B2B outbound sales agency. Their goal is to provide their clients with  sales qualified leads.

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue; churn

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Just continue to support your churned customers over the end of the contract.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Concentrate only on the things you can influence. There is always a way C and D as long you communicate it properly.”

Phil Simmonds – Founder at Diskette

Diskette is creating the brightest, boldest, iconic, industry-changing companies of the future.

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; staying close to customers; maintaining team morale.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“We’ve been doing an automatic daily stand-up each day to minimise time wasted on video calls + keep the team focused and motivated.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Less video calls- more action! Automate check-ins at regular intervals to keep productivity high. Communication shouldn’t require synchronising calendars. Also use this time to build, develop new capabilities and read the room. Invest in your future.”

Shira Abel – CEO at Hunter & Bard

Hunter & Bard is an award-winning marketing and design agency that works with enterprises on messaging, account based marketing campaigns, website design, branding, content marketing and more. Hunter & Bard designs and implements smart marketing and design strategies that grow companies.

Biggest challenge(s)

Extending runway.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“We’ve tightened the team and have reviewed all software solutions.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Think of this as an opportunity to focus on your customers and growth. The marketing you do now will pay off when things open back up. I’ve found maintaining a routine to be extremely helpful. I also make sure I don’t work on nights or weekends. Every day feels the same, so it’s up to us to make sure there’s a difference.”

Sohini De – Founder at Empeal

Empeal is a SaaS based digital health company. It provides a Health Risk Management Tool focussed on prevention and management of chronic diseases.

Biggest challenge(s)

Staying close to customers; extending runway; fundraising.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Completely revenue and user base growth focus: to solve Funding and runway challenges. 

Doing more online onboarding and support for users and clients also doing lot of video tutorials: to remain close to customers but it is an expensive process, we need to streamline this.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Focus on what you can control. No point panicking about what is outside our control. Cash is king and focus on positioning for revenue growth when we are on the other side of COVID. We also repositioned our proposition in this current scenario and cut out portions of our offerings for a freemium model. This gives more engagement from interested customers and also shows the depth of our technology. So this might work for other SaaS companies. Communicating with the team in a transparent and regular way is of utmost importance. We have a hugely motivated team despite being a globally distributed team and a small startup with resource limitations.”

Taina Sipilä – CEO & Founder at Dear Lucy

Dear Lucy is a real-time sales performance tracking and forecasting solution for Salesforce, Pipedrive and HubSpot CRM. 

Biggest challenge(s)

Slowed revenue.

How are you adapting to your biggest challenge(s)?

“Making sure we target the right kind of business in new customer acquisition.”

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Find a smart way to add sales without adding fixed costs. We do it with a partner sales model. We’re entrepreneurs and made to cope with challenging situations! Isn’t it cool to innovate fast and find new ways to do business in a new situation!”

Vlad Tropko – Managing Director at Digital Horizon

Digital Horizon is an early stage venture capital fund with a focus on B2B software based companies in fintech, retail/e-commerce. 

Biggest challenge(s)

Managing remote teams; maintaining team morale; fundraising.

What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to another SaaS CEO during this climate?

“Regarding the morale and remote team issues, the key is to have regular one-on-one discussions and with all team members present, where you can discuss all topics trustworthy. You can also add some apps, like Tandem or Watercooler. Regarding fundraising, founders have to be ready for longer fundraising processes to increase the number of leads.”

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