A year ago, Cristina Vila was on a race with time – would the Cledara MVP be ready for launch on October 16th at the SaaStock Pitch stage? It was the strategy she had decided to employ – launch with a bang. Suffice to say, she managed. Practicing the pitch over a 100 times, Cristina launched Cledara on the SaaStock stage and won the Global Pitch Competition. A year later, Cristina and team have just been accepted to Techstars, are about to close a funding round and are on track to grow 600% by the end of the year. It’s the sort of startup story, dreams are made of.

We sat down for a chat with her to hear some of the introspection she has had time to make and where the future lays.

What were the highlights of your experience taking part on last year’s Global Pitch Competition?
There are probably too many to mention. The obvious one for us was having the chance to launch our product on stage and subsequently winning the competition. It was a massive highlight to validate the mission and hard work of the whole team.

Beyond that it’s everything that led to it happening. A big highlight was meeting some of the Frontline partners that helped us with our pitch ahead of the competition. They understood first hand that there is a massive need to give startups visibility and control over their SaaS spend so they recommended that we make that more prominent in our pitch and messaging. They have been following our progress since and continue to support us, which is great. 

We also got great feedback from some of the amazing judges. April Dunford gave great advice on positioning. Everyone should check out her recent book, ‘Obviously Awesome’! Amy Neale from Mastercard has been brilliant, connecting us to the Startpath team and more broadly across Mastercard.

On a more personal note, it was so fulfilling to meet fellow startups such as Cleverbridge, Vibbio, Veamly, OhmyLead, and Pay with Bolt. The ability to connect with likeminded entrepreneurs and talk about the journey, is just as important as any piece of advice on the pitch.

What has happened since you won and what are some of the key outcomes that helped you get where you are?
It has been amazing because we launched Cledara right on stage during the pitch competition at SaaStock which triggered a massive snowball as it helped us find early adopters amongst the companies that were attending the event. It gave us massive validation because with Cledara people manage their SaaS spend and it means that they have to trust us with their money. Being able to say that we are SaaStock Global Pitch competition Winners helps companies and certainly those early adopters trust us and onboard to Cledara. 

I am really grateful to SaaStock because you were the first to really get behind Cledara and winning it has triggered a lot of amazing things. Recently we got accepted into Techstars London which is one of the best accelerator programs in the world. We have got an amazing investor that we will be closing very soon. The momentum started with winning the competition.

What made you want to take part and what would be your advice to anyone thinking about applying this year?
Just do it! If you want to play in the top league you have to put yourself out there and challenge yourself to win the best competitions. I know that public speaking, especially when you have only a couple of minutes, is very hard but you just have to prepare a lot. If you do that then you have a real chance to win which is transformational for your company. I practiced the pitch more than a hundred times before SaaStock.

What was the first thing you implemented after taking part in the Startup Program and winning the Pitch competition?
We put up the novelty check on the wall, where it stays to this day 🙂 We had spent so much time refining the pitch that after winning, we kept on improving it and using it with potential customers, using all the valuable feedback we had received.

What are some tangible ways it has helped you?
At SaaStock we were not looking for investors yet, but we had the opportunity to meet with many of them and start a relationship early on. We had just launched and we were looking for some early adopters which we got. But the most tangible thing we got was both validation for the team and the market that SaaS spend management was a real problem and one that needed to be solved. And to date, I continue to run into people in different environments that first heard of us at SaaStock and SaaStock has continued to help us until today. And SaaStock is now a customer too 🙂 

How did the experience guide the direction you were taking your startup?
It reinforced our direction as we got recognition from the SaaS industry. On one hand, you could argue that Cledara could increase churn for SaaS companies because we make it easier to cancel SaaS. However, winning the Pitch competition and getting the support of the SaaS industry showed us that SaaS companies do care about giving a great service to their customers and they do want to make it easy for customers to leave. They recognise that a great customer experience happens at all stages of the customer journey and to be supported by the SaaS industry for a product like Cledara is amazing because we share that vision. We believe that managing the whole SaaS lifecycle and giving a great experience to everyone in the journey is critical for SaaS to take all of enterprise software.

What are some milestones you have achieved since?
We got into Techstars, we got a great investor that we are about to close with, and the business keeps doubling every month.

Where is your startup now in terms of numbers? (Customers, ARR, growth, etc)
We have been doubling the amount transacted through the platform every month since January and we have already shot past our original target of growing by 600% by the end of the year. 

Why would you advise anyone to take part in the Startup Program this year?
You have the whole SaaS industry from around the world in one room. If you are providing a SaaS solution, very likely your customers are in the room, as well as your peers and future investors. Also, you have the opportunity to learn from the leaders and top companies of the SaaS industry that attend the conference so the question is, why wouldn’t you be there? My advice for everyone in the pitch competition is to practice to oblivion. The fact that we’ve nailed our pitch continues to be very valuable to this day as it helps in conversations with potential investors, customers and new hires. 

You too can have a story like that. Our Startup Program was built with SaaS companies in mind and is best positioned to offer the tailored help you need to take your startup on the next stage. Apply now.