A giant caveat: this post is focused on high growth SaaS. Not on mature businesses where you are trying to coordinate the build, sale and adoption of a large portfolio of products.
In the world of high growth SaaS, all too often we tend to believe that it is our functional or technical inferiority that will put us in second or third position. But if you look back at the history of enterprise technology, the absolute winner almost never had the most complete or best technology, at least at the outset.
In the fantastic Zero to IPO podcast by Joshua Davis and Frederic Kerrest, Okta co-founder Frederic says that the winning ratio is 70% market, 20% team, 10% product. Marc Andreessen says its 90% people. Whatever the right answer, it’s not 100% product. The winners were winners because of their speed of execution, speed of thinking, speed of mistakes, speed of pivots. They got ahead first. And made ruthlessly decisive choices every day to remain in pole position.
These phrases bandied about at your growing SaaS company are the enemy of speed:
- “Synergies”: I run for the hills when I hear the word synergy. By synergy you mean selling more to the same customer, great. But all too often, it’s an inward view to digging for areas of overlap, without understanding the impact on growth or customer success. It usually manifests itself in the form of centralizing development to find commonalities, or worse it surfaces in the form of munging together key functions in a SaaS business that need to be far apart from each other if you want to move fast and with just the right level of accuracy.
- “Alignment”: Debate is good but alignment as a goal in and of itself results in some watered-down version of a clear winning strategy, generally to make room for political appeasement. Congrats, yo – everyone is satisfied. You now have a solid B plan.
- “Streamlining”: Streamlining is an attempt to over sequential-ize activities and that brings things to a crawl. Choose AND over OR. Bear the pain and parallell-ize to learn (and fail) fast. Favor speed over conformity.
- Finally, “Seamless” (and sundry jargon). Seamless is ok if it’s about the customer experience but seamless for the most part is in the eye of the beholder. So make sure you can go the distance and that it is commercially worth it. Real time is another gem. Its great but it will crush your COGS, and I’ll bet you your favorite tipple that unless you’re building the next Bloomberg terminal, most of your customers use cases don’t require real time all the time. There are plenty of other clever sounding words that will crush speed. You get my drift.
Look, these are all well-intentioned words. But they need to have a basis. Because whilst actions speak louder than words, when you’re building a culture, words matter.
So, watch for these critters and if they don’t have a real basis, squash ‘em.
P.S. If you have other gems, fire away in the comments.
(Cross-posted @ Pretzel Logic)