The seed stage investment market feels like it's changing quickly. Last year and the year before, the institutional seed investor came to the fore. These firms raised between $5 and $75M to invest in seed stage companies. In addition, VCs have been participating in the seed stage market as well, making 2013 a banner year for seed investment. Startups raised 132% more in seed rounds than in 2012. But what of 2014? And what does it mean for 2015?
Once a startup has found an initial product market fit, the business must evolve the way it models its growth. Before product market fit, a startup's financial projections focus on costs. The company has no visibility into their revenue growth. So, the management team should minimize costs, maximize cash and lengthen runway to provide as much time as possible to find that product market fit. As we've seen, staff are both the greatest asset of a business and also the greatest cost, at least initially, and modeling those is straightforward. But when a repeatable sales process seems to have been discovered, it's time to develop the startup's revenue forecast.
In The Shape of Things to Come, the New Yorker profiles Jony Ive, the man they call Apple's greatest product. Ive is iconic. His products have been sold 1.5 billion times. For all of his success, Ive's personality isn't well known. Neither is his personal history. Or how he manages the Apple Design Lab. The New Yorker article reveals some of these three things. Here are some of my favorite quotes.
If I were asked to create a content marketing strategy for a person or a business from scratch, I would craft a strategy with three dimensions: customer segments, customer lifecycle stage and content type.
In 2009, the Corporate Executive Board, a consultancy providing expertise to some of the world's largest companies, studied the distinguishing characteristics of great sales people and well-run sales processes. They surveyed more than 6,000 sales reps across 90+ businesses. The analysis revealed three interesting things.
In "The Rule of 40% for a Healthy SaaS Company," Brad Feld shared a simple rule of thumb growth investors often apply to judge the attractiveness of a $50M business. "The 40% rule is that your growth rate + your profit should add up to 40%." I was curious if this theory were broadly true, applicable for growth stage companies, but also early stage companies. So, I calculated this metric, which I'll call the GP metric in this post, for all the publicly traded SaaS companies over their lifetimes.
It's becoming more and more expensive to scale a startup in San Francisco. In fact, it's twice as costly to operate a startup in 2014 as it was in 2009.
After a SaaS startup has achieved some degree of product market fit, the business will likely ramp the go-to-market teams, and in particular the sales team. Measuring and tracking the performance of a growing sales team is critical to the growth and financial health of a business. The report above is the most effective view of the performance of a sales team I've found for SaaS startups.
In 2011, a team of researchers from Stanford and Harvard led by Teresa Amabile collected daily work journals from more than 250 people at large and small companies in a variety of roles. In each journal entry, an employee described one work event that stood out that day. Over the course of a few months, the study received more than 12,000 responses. From all this data, the team revealed a critical ingredient to be a great manager: managing for progress.
SaaS companies are marvelous businesses. They are more predictable than most other kinds of companies and in addition they demonstrate leverage from technology. The best SaaS companies are able to build strong brands, develop scalable products and hire teams to bring those products to market effectively. To show the power of the convergence of these forces, I've analyzed the employee productivity patterns of the 50+ publicly traded SaaS companies.