Rumors swirled yesterday that Salesforce, the $40B SaaS behemoth, had been approached by an acquirer. Dan Primack speculated this morning that Oracle and Microsoft are the likely candidates. If Salesforce were to be acquired, the SaaS ecosystem would change substantially.
The first SaaS startup started as a packaged software company. After selling floppy disks and CD-ROMs of expense software in computer software stores, the company changed models for the first time, and sold software licenses directly to enterprises. The company went public on this model in 1998. But soon after the crash of 2001, the startup's market cap totaled only $8M. So the business evolved again and became a pure SaaS business, selling software accessible to anyone with a browser. Thirteen years later, the company generated more than $600M in annual revenue in 2014 and sold to SAP for $8.3B, and it is one of the very few SaaS companies ever to achieve both positive revenue and cash flow break-even
The Information reported last week that in 2014, only 11% of tech IPOs in 2014 were profitable when they became publicly traded companies, an all time low stretching back to 1980, when the figure was 88%. This raises the seemingly absurd question, how important is it to be profitable for a startup? After all, growth is the largest determinant of valuation at IPO, not profitability.
Yesterday, I met with a bright entrepreneur who asked me to clarify four numbers for SaaS companies: bookings, monthly recurring revenue, recognized revenue and cash collections. These four numbers are critical to understanding the health of a SaaS startup, so it's important to have a strong grasp on the distinctions between them.
"Is there a bubble?" is a question that seems to be asked every day. But it's the wrong question. Maybe there is a bubble. Maybe there isn't. Instead of asking the question, let's just presume we are in a bubble. Then, the far more important debate surfaces: given the bubble, how should a team manage a startup differently?
In the Innovator's Dilemma for SaaS Startups, I outlined the path of many software companies, which disrupt incumbents by first serving the small-to-medium business and then move up-market by transitioning to serve larger enterprises with outbound sales teams. I argued this transition is largely due to the more attractive characteristics of larger customers, namely higher sales efficiency and reduced churn rates. This is the "traditional" way of disrupting. But, as Kenny van Zant of Asana and Mike Cannon-Brookes Atlassian told me, there's another way, a novel way of building companies that still isn't very well understood: the Flywheel SaaS Company.
Sales cycles, the time from acquiring a lead to closing an account, vary quite a bit by industry, product type, and price point. But universally speaking for startups, shorter sales cycles are better. Maintaining a short sales cycle is a competitive advantage for several important reasons.
How many companies sell each year for $1B or more? In the last ten years, on average, 2.5 US venture backed IT companies are acquired for $1B+. In the last ten years, a total of 20 companies have sold themselves for greater than $1B. Over the past 20 years, that trend has been relatively constant, with the exception of the euphoria in 1999 and 2000.
Performance reviews tax organizations, managers and employees to such an extent that some companies have abolished them outright. Reviews are emotionally complex conversations. Positive and negative feedback are intertwined with conversations about career progression, raises and equity grants. These meetings are emotional powder kegs; and it's no wonder they stress us.
In a post earlier this week, Josh Kopelman coined the term Private IPO to describe patterns in the runaway late stage financing market. In addition to the points Josh makes about the dangers of stale valuations, there is another important and related implication for founders.