Last week I had the chance to attend the 2016 SaaStr conference in San Francisco. I was mainly focused on a better understanding of the positioning of our HotWax Commerce cloud commerce platform within the broader SaaS marketplace, and was also keeping in mind a small spin-out we have been working on. Anil Patel flew in to attend as well, and we had a great time.
The conference is fantastic. I say it “is” fantastic because I think it was probably awesome last year, and will probably also be awesome in years to come. In 2016 SaaStr featured 150+ speakers, 3,000 SaaS company founders, 1,000 VCs who focus on SaaS, and another 1,000 or so press and other attendees. @jasonlk is doing a lot of things right with @SaaStr — keep it up man!
For this post I want to touch on a few of the ideas that stand out to me after the show. Quick and dirty, in no particular order:
- The best part of any conference that Anil and I attend together is the off-site brainstorming we do together working on our own business. I find it rewarding to remove myself from the daily routine and have a chance to work “on” the business and not “in” it for a few days. Anil’s ingenuity, creativity, and optimism are inspiring.
- There were all kinds of folks there looking to raise and invest money. The conversations can be hilariously circular:
Founder: I need some money for my product.VC: Build the product, and then we’ll give you money.Founder: OK, I built it! Now I need money to market and sell it.VC: Market and sell the product, and then we’ll give you money.Founder: OK, I am marketing and selling the product now! I need money to grow.VC: Get some good traction, show some strong growth, and then we’ll give you money.Founder: Once I have good traction and strong growth, why would I want your money?And so on.
At HotWax, we are contacted weekly by associates at VC firms who want to keep us on the radar. We’re talking with some director-level investors about the spin-out we are considering. I’m re-reading Venture Deals (Feld and Mendelson), The Money of Invention (Lerner and Gompers) is sitting on my desk, I follow various blogs and podcasts, and overall I think the whole funding ecosystem is fascinating.
Taking outside investment, though, would be a HUGE commitment. Companies shouldn’t just hold their hats out to anyone. The only way to do it (and I hope the way it is usually done) is when the VC and the company have meaningful broader strategic alignment. Smart money — a group who can not only invest capital but also, say, facilitate a hugely broader distribution much faster than the company could on its own. Then I can see how it could make sense.
But the best outcome for founders is definitely when they can take the company where they want it to go on their own, without external investment.
- Jay Simons (President at Atlassian @jaysimons) was by far my favorite speaker. See #2 above to understand why. We have been using Atlassian products for a lot of years now, and the story of its rise without taking external funding is really inspirational. I also really liked listening to Zach Nelson (CEO NetSuite @zachnelson). NetSuite’s product reminds me a lot of our platform in many ways, so his view from the top of the mountain was interesting.
In closing, I will recommend SaaStr to anyone interested in the space. Definitely worth the trip if SaaS is your thing. Go for it! You can find more info here: http://saastrannual.com/