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Ten lessons Vivek Sharma learned growing past $40mm in ARR

Vivek Sharma co-founded Movable Ink in 2010 and has led the company through rapid growth to a leading market position with 200+ employees serving 500 of the most innovative consumer brands. Movable Ink is helping digital marketers embrace a visual world with intelligent creative that adapts at the moment of engagement.

Many SaaS companies have stall points around $10M and $30M in ARR. At $10M, companies crumble if they haven’t figured out a scalable sales process. At $30M, companies crumble if they haven’t figured out a scalable organization.

Movable Ink recently crossed $40M in ARR. Vivek Sharma shares their 10 biggest lessons.

1. Product

Introducing a new product? Shrink down to startup.

The scaled company is risk averse. When you get to a huge organization, each member has their own priorities they want to protect. The sales rep has a bookings target to hit; he doesn’t want to be your guinea pig. Others don’t want to jeopardize a client relationship with talk of a hypothetical product. There’s resistance to change and new products.

So create special teams that are like an internal startup. Movable Ink created “tiger teams,” with one sales rep carrying a custom quota for this product, one marketer, etc.

99% of people you hire have never had to sweat through an MVP process. Select the right few to build a separate team for this new product.

(On this note, a book recommendation from Annie: a classic, The Innovator’s Dilemma)

2. Sales

Discover your own first principles.

There are so many gurus and holy grails to follow about how to run SaaS sales.

“Applying other playbooks to your product and your buyer can cause things to go royally sideways.”

So first do some discovery within your own business. ABM, NQL, BDR aren’t the answer.

Ask yourselves: “Who is our buyer? Who do they need to talk to?” Learn for yourself what your buyer looks like and how their process works. Then design a sales process (or adopt one of the playbooks) to that.

3. Customer Success

Your Customer Success manager should be your most seasoned manager.

Customer Success is so crucial to SaaS that you need to take this hire very seriously.

“I was hiring player coaches before this. But I realized I needed a real manager who had built an organization before and could train people with raw talent.”

Vivek admitted that executive recruiters cost a fortune (Movable Ink paid $80-100K), but it was worth it. Vivek wasn’t limited to just his own professional network, and he had his pick of people who could be a good fit.

Proof of value? The person he hired six years ago to be the VP of Customer Success is now the Chief Revenue Officer.

4. Marketing

Embrace marketing without clear-cut ROI

“Everyone is reading the same blog posts and books. If everyone is reading the same playbook, then it’s not an advantage.”

To develop a strong brand and break through all the marketing noise, you need to live without the certainty, without the quantified data. Eventually, you can track the ROI, but you have to make a leap first.

Example? Movable Ink put together an event strategy. They created a road tour, which put together 60-70 people to do a presentation. This eventually grew into hosting their own customer conference!

5. Partnering

Arm a bigger company with a slingshot

When it comes to partnerships, aim big. As the fresh new addition, you can be the slingshot for bigger companies to take down their competitors!

In return, you get involvement and momentum in front of a greater audience. Maybe it will take a couple years to see the full benefits.

6. People

Know how to evaluate hires. The secret to hiring A players.

For a long time, Movable Ink employed what Vivek calls “voodoo hiring.” Which is to say, incredibly subjective, wishy-washy hiring, hoping for the right result. With a disorganized interview process, every interviewer will come away with their own different impression.

Now for Vivek’s own book recommendation!

Who, by Geoff Smart

The book has a framework that you can put into practice. You’ll learn how to unify ideas of what you’re hiring for, train people on how to interview properly and align candidates on a scorecard.

7. Finance

Hire a CFO before $10M in ARR who has SaaS experience

“Don’t hire someone who needs to learn SaaS on your dime.”

Your CFO needs to know what the SaaS numbers mean. Movable Ink had close calls in the past because the head of finance didn’t understand SaaS accounting or projections.

“It’s not just about numbers, but also intuition. A SaaS-experienced CFO can help you know when to hold back on investments, or when to double down.”

Plus, a CFO can also be your operational partner in any area that makes the machine run: legal, finance, IT, operations, etc.

8. Operations

Establish a decision-making framework

“I became an obstacle to getting things done.”

When the business is smaller, you (as the founder or CEO) have to be involved in nearly all decision. But as you grow, you don’t.

Be clear about what decisions you need to be involved in, and which you don’t. Know where you need to decide, and where you simply need to give input.

9. International

Follow the breadcrumbs of those who’ve come before you

Europe has an advantage because European SaaS needs to think about going global from day one. As an American company, Movable Ink followed the path and roadmap of other successful companies, so as to avoid their mistakes.

Vivek also encourages: don’t be afraid of markets that seem difficult to crack. The Japanese market intimidated him at first but turns out the market was really receptive to what Movable Ink offered.

10. Growing as a leader

Push yourself to grow every year

“Your company will follow.”

Find some form of professional development or getting out of your comfort zone. Look into finding an executive coach, but be very picky.

“It’s a rare thing to build a dream team. Cherish it. Embrace every success and celebrate it!”

You can watch Vivek’s full talk as well as all the 100 other presentations we have recorded. Get the SaaStock18 On Demand bundle now.