The Traveling Spouse Relationship Hack

My line of work requires me to travel all around the world. I’m on the road constantly, and life is busy at home. As a result, my wife and I don’t get nearly as much time together as we’d like.

I don’t claim to be a couple’s therapist. But I do know from living the life of a traveling spouse and watching what seems to be a solid half of our community get divorced that together, life, work, kids, stress, and time all conspire to erode the quality and depth of what should be our best and strongest relationship.

My wife and I have come up with what we think is a pretty slick plan to combat all the stress in our lives while helping us grow closer together and reconnect. We try to get away, just the two of us, 2-3 times a year—something I like to refer to as the traveling spouse relationship hack. (Sorry kiddos!)

The key is always having what I’d call a “carrot” on the calendar that is just for you and your partner. The next several weeks might very well suck. Work obligations might seem overwhelming, and the kids have a zillion things to do with school, sports, and extracurricular activities. When the calendar is a brick wall for weeks or months on end, I start planning the next getaway.

Commit to a Getaway

It’s not enough to just have a vague plan of what you might do a few weeks from now. My wife and I have found that putting events down on the calendar as we head into tough stretches of time helps us overcome any obstacles. Our getaways become little rewards we’ve earned by persevering through difficult and hectic periods—like that beer at the finish line after running a marathon.

The getaways are strategically placed on the tail end of super busy or stressful blocks of work and family life. When we’re in the middle of it and want to scream our lungs out, my wife and I both know that there is something to look forward to—a time to reconnect, fall deeper in love, and have some fun.

It’s a lot more fun than therapy (although that’s a good investment, too!).

Planning a Trip

We’re definitely fortunate that both of our parents are still around to watch the kids from time to time. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) Not everyone has that luxury and I realize that. We’re also super lucky that our kids can handle hanging with their grandparents and they all have a good time together!  Not everyone has the same arrangement and this “hack” could get expensive if you have to pay for child care, so perhaps the solve is weekends or stay-cations more than getaways in that case.  Many families also have two working spouses, where both getting time off on the same schedule is challenging. So, take all of this as inspiration for your own version of the hack. The key is that you have something on the calendar for just you two and it’s scheduled at the end of a crazy busy schedule.

No matter your specific situation, you can almost certainly make something work. You might just have to get a little bit more creative.

One solution we have come up with that only works once in awhile is to tack on a few extra days to one of my business trips. For example, I recently spent a few awesome days in Lisbon at WebSummit and in Berlin for work. I was lucky enough to have my amazing wife and favorite companion by my side. I got a lot of work done, and spent some quality time with my wife in-between.

More often than not, however, it’s near impossible for my wife to join me on a business trip. Life happens. Someone has to hold down the fort, make lunches, and run carpool. That’s okay, too. A random weekend away somewhere special will do the trick or even a surprise stay-cation has worked in some cases.

When it comes down to it, there aren’t that many people in our lives who have our backs 100% of the time. Our spouses and partners are supposed to be our top advocates, supporting us in all our endeavors.

While work, kids, and the rest of life might stress us out, we shouldn’t let them blind us to what’s really important in life. Don’t let your career ruin one of best and most rewarding relationships you’ll ever have. Give the traveling spouse relationship hack a try. You’ll be happy you did!

Hello Lisbon & Berlin!

lisbon

I’m on a plane at the moment heading to my 1st WebSummit in Lisbon. I’ll also be in Berlin this week visiting our awesome Metro program. I’m excited to see Lisbon for the 1st time and as a food and wine lover, Portugal has always been on my list!

 My WebSummit schedule: 

Monday 11/7 – I’ll be attending the Venture conference on Monday and hosting a Roundtable on “Founders that Don’t Scale: How to Handle” (Table 5 at 1:30PM).  As someone who has been a founder and is now a VC, this is a topic that is important to me and I feel this is something the Tech/Venture world needs to work on. I’m looking forward to sharing best practices and hearing from other investors how they handle these delicate situations.

Tuesday 11/8 – I’m a judge for the PITCH event. I’ll be on the 11:15am slot on PITCH Stage 3. Really looking forward to seeing the companies and meeting new people! And yes, I’m thankful I have a distraction from the insanity of the US election on Tuesday.

Wednesday 11/9 – I’m hosting a Workshop called “Cracking the Code: How to Speak VC” at 10:00 AM in Pavilion One of the FIL in Lisbon. I’m really looking forward to this one also as I’m going to take a crack at translating some of the behavior, messaging and “body language” entrepreneurs often get from VCs.

Berlin Schedule: 

Then its off to Berlin for a quick two days! I am looking forward to visiting our Metro Accelerator on Thursday for Office Hours with the companies there. We are thrilled to be partnered with METRO to drive innovation in Hospitality and Retail and the companies working on innovation in these categories are very engaging!

On Friday I’m hosting a talk at the Factory in Berlin on an important topic: “How to win in the US from the EU” at 11 AM. We’ll discuss effective strategies for EU based companies to attract capital, customers, and success in the US from abroad. Topics covered will include fundraising strategies that work, US market entry timing, investor relationships, and the US M&A landscape and how the major tech acquirers view EU companies. If you are in Berlin, come join the conversation!

If you are at any of these events, come say hi!
P.S. – Huge shout out to Brian Daly for being awesome and connecting me with the WebSummit folks.

A.B.F. – Always Be Fundraising

The CEO of any startup has three primary roles:

  1. Raising capital
  2. Setting the vision and overall strategy
  3. Hiring the right people

As anyone who has built and run a business from the ground up will tell you, being a CEO is not the easiest gig in the world. With so many different distractions pulling you in so many different directions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the minutiae of the day to day and lose sight of those three responsibilities.

To be fair, CEOs are responsible for more than just those three things. Each CEO has to wear multiple hats. But the fundamentals are still true.

Raise Money—And Then Raise More

I’ve noticed a pattern amongst entrepreneurs—even the good ones—where many of them forget the importance of the first responsibility listed above: raising capital. They forget that fundraising is an ongoing job that needs to be done regardless of the current cash balance.

Raising money is hard enough as it is. But by not working on it in between rounds, CEOs and founders make it that much harder on themselves. To be successful, CEOs need to take the A.B.F. approach to fundraising: always be fundraising.

A little maintenance goes a long way—just like heading to the gym on a regular basis is good for your health and fitness. Don’t get fat and lazy in between fundraising rounds—getting back into fighting shape (or fundraising shape!) is 10 times harder when you don’t have a base.

Some readers will almost certainly blow this off as easy-to-say/hard-to-do VC advice, but I actually screwed this up in the past too. Knowing what I know now, I wish I could go back in time and talk to my former-self. There were times when I was terrible about A.B.F. and other times when I was much better at it. The results of each approach were pretty clear.

I now see the difference between CEOs who take the A.B.F. approach and those who treat it as as a finite transaction. If you are not talking to and engaging investors between rounds, you are not A.B.F and you’ll pay later. When it’s time to raise (even in a “things are awesome and I need to fund the growth” scenario) it’s way more work as you are starting the relationships from scratch in many cases. The biggest difference is the fact that, with an A.B.F. mentality, whenever it’s time to raise more money—regardless of whether it’s a big up round or a “leap over the valley of death bridge”—the rounds get done faster, easier, and with more support from investors…and often on better terms.

Here’s a simple contrast between A.B.F and transactional fundraising: 2-3 hours a month woven into everything you do or 3-5 stressful months on the road herding cats during only two good windows per calendar year. Am I getting through?!?

Tips for Making A.B.F. a Reality

So how exactly can you become an someone who lives and breathes A.B.F.?

  • Maintain two investor lists. The first list should include current investors who you share monthly or quarterly updates with. The second list is for the investors who’ve passed at some point but left the door open. (You know the “if you were at YYZ in MRR we’d take a closer look, keep us posted” folks). Add new contacts to this list as you do the A.B.F. groundwork (networking, taking intros, etc.) This list becomes your target list for the next round.
  • Update the first list monthly. Be consistent—make it part of your routine. Put the asks at the top followed by the wins & metrics. The data should be telling a story clearly so there is no ambiguity about what is working and what isn’t. You might even find that they realize it’s time to add more capital to the business before you do. VCs are great at pattern recognition (for better or worse). This is low-hanging-fruit in terms of helping investors follow along as the chart moves up and to the right!
  • Solicit feedback and advice from the second list occasionally. You don’t want to be too annoying, but you don’t need to completely disappear either. In a previous blog post, I talked about the idea that when you ask for advice you get investment and when you ask for investment you get advice. Play the game and engage. Ask for feedback on metrics, messaging, and progress to ensure they’re thinking about you and your company.
  • Update your target investors every quarter. Put in some face time with investors on that second list. This can be a 20 minute video call. Just say top of mind if you can. Spread it out and mix it up. Personally, I’m way more likely to take a coffee meeting or a quick call to help an entrepreneur I know or to hear how things are going vs agreeing to be pitched formally if the company isn’t on my radar.  ­Asking for quick feedback on a high-level deck or just sending over news of a few wins will get the job done. The occasional business ask will test to see who is really paying attention. Put these at the top of the emails!

Are you the kind of CEO who’s always thinking about raising money but not doing it? Or could your fundraising game be enhanced? The sooner you adopt an A.B.F. mindset, the less time you’ll spend actually fundraising!

Why Your Startup Should Eat A Debt Sandwich

I’ve given this talk at various Techstars programs quite a few times now, and most recently gave it in L.A. at our awesome Healthcare Accelerator in partnership with Cedars-Sinai. I always do this talk off-the-cuff (no slides) to keep it interactive. You won’t find my talk online anywhere, so I’m excited to share some of the key points for the first time here.

Founders are often given valid but over-simplified advice when it comes to debt financing. Some of the “mostly true” points include; debt rounds cost less from a legal standpoint, that you can negotiate a high conversion cap (implicit next round valuation target) than are priced equity rounds, and you can raise money progressively (one investor at a time).

All of this is often true. Debt rounds can be easier and can also keep costs down for all parties involved. That’s why I’ve often heard it said: “If you don’t know what to do just raise debt”, or “if you don’t want to price your company, just raise debt.” Venture Deals does a great job of discussing these dynamics in more detail.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to say debt rounds are bad news. At all. All I’m saying is avoid raising two (or more!) debt rounds in a row.

Instead, sandwich debt between equity so the debt won’t come back to haunt your company later.

Why Sandwich your Debt?

Your cap table can end up like a sandwich with too many condiments stacked on top of each other. We all know what happens, and only about ½ the sandwich ends up in your mouth!  

Debt rounds become problematic because each round of debt comes with its own discount, it’s own conversion cap, and other rights/terms. It becomes particularly complex if one of the rounds has a low conversion cap and the next has a higher one. The cap table math gets complicated, the founder/common dilution gets significant, and the new money investors end up with less ownership than they are looking for.

All of this has to be sorted out by legal or the VCs, messaged to the existing investors, and managed by the lawyers in papering the round. This causes problems for everyone, and some investors will just walk because the deal becomes complicated.

The early investor sometimes get asked move the cap up, and no one feels good about that move. I often remind founders that $1.00 isn’t actually $1.00 with debt, it’s either a $1.25 (remember the 20% discount & interest) or more like $1.50+ if your next round is well above the cap.

It’s good to go in eyes open and to realize that stacking debt means the discounts, the interest, and the cap all end up driving up the actual dollar leverage to the investor and the company sells more equity in the round but gets no additional net-new capital to spend from it.

When you sandwich your debt between equity rounds you are mitigating the risk of the next equity round toppling over due to complexity or having to do a massive amount of negotiating with both old and new investors and having the dilution get out of control.

Real World Example

  • One company I worked with had 3 different note rounds with escalating caps and discounts (1M/50%, 2M/20%, 3M/20%). The 1M cap round was the 1st money in and what a deal that was (for the investor)!
  • The timeframe across all of the 3 notes was ‘too short’; The 1M note was only 6 months from 3M – new investors felt the cap/discounts on the early notes were a ‘deal that never should have been done’ and there was friction from the get-go. Naturally the founders didn’t want to sell any more debt at that 1M/50% level.
  • Without a restructure of the early debt, it would have amounted to an approximate 5% additional dilution to founders when the priced round closed.
  • The early note holders were friends and family, but despite that, getting them to agree to changing the debt terms was very challenging. Who wants to give up the better deal they got for taking the early risk?
  • New investors have a range (ownership model) that keeps founder/early investor/new investor ratios balanced  – the successive debt rounds painted the company into a corner where it was almost an impossible equation to solve for. It became messy – and almost killed the deal.

The Solution

The company ended up renegotiating the 1M cap notes to 2M. This cost the CEO 80 hours of time, the co-founder another 60 hours, and a substantial legal bill. Let that sink in for a moment. The founders lost a good month of productivity on this.

Had they raised the 2nd/3rd round of notes as a priced round, the first round of notes would have been converted in early. The 1M note investors would have gotten a quick 2x on their investment and then owned equity.  None of this process and extra dilution would have taken place. The company would have raised that seed round with a pre-money around the same valuation as the later note caps, so they would have also saved the 20% discount.

Avoid this kind of headache, and just eat a debt sandwich instead.

Resource – Getting from Seed to Series A

ICYMI, Techstars has launched a new live AMA series for Entrepreneurs which I’m super excited about. We are recording the AMAs for later consumption, so no need to worry if you can’t make the live event schedule.

I recently hosted a live AMA with Michelle Crosby of WeVorce and Todd Saunders of AdHawk (both Techstars Ventures portfolio companies) that was a continuation of the discussion started at CES 2016 around “Getting from Seed to Series A” which I then blogged about here.

There are so many great posts and resources already out there on this topic but here’s a quick hit list of items that popped up in the last week to add the to the reading queue.

Bookmark this post as I’ll keep adding links to new content from Techstars and others around our network on this important topic!

From Seed to Series A

NOTE: This is a repost from my blog entry over at techstars.com.

I recently moderated a panel discussion at CES 2016 on how to get from Seed to Series A and it ended up being great in a lot of ways. Topics were broad with some contrarian views on metrics and approaches. A few days later a Techstars CEOs posted a very relevant question on our email list and a great discussion ensured. I chimed in with some of the take-aways from the panel on that list and thought I’d share them here.

A quick note of thanks to my esteemed panelists who provided great input and kept me on my toes!  Anjula Acharia-Bath of Trinity Ventures, Nihal Mehta of ENIAC Ventures, Jenny Fielding of Techstars and Adam D’Augelli of True Ventures.

The question from the CEO was:

 

“In your experience, what ARR is required before approaching investors for a Series A? I’ve received a few suggestions, but most suggestions come from our existing investors (with bias).”

The email responses included some of the market-standard metrics like $100K MRR and double digit monthly growth as common targets.

Our panel went in a different direction on what it takes to get from Seed to Series A.  Part of the framing for the panel and the room was:

While getting rounds done isn’t going to get any easier in 2016, there is a lot you can do before going out to raise to improve your chances. As a group, we could not agree there was set number, or even one set of criteria that made any Series A round a given…

  • One of the themes that came out of the panel was that Series A is still about the overall story. Metrics do play a part, but the investors have to share the vision and the long term potential about a huge return at this stage.
  • Related to the point above, make sure you know who you are talking to and and how they like to make investments. For example, if you are talking to Bessemer, a prolific Cloud/SaaS investor, make sure your metrics are tight and you know their portfolio. If you are approaching True Ventures, know that they like to lead/co-lead the 1st institutional round.
  • One of my panelists thought that investor feedback of, “ your metrics aren’t quite there for a Series A” truly means “we just aren’t that excited but don’t want to say no yet.” A lot of VCs like to hold onto optionality by not saying no, but not saying yes either. In my experience a “no decision” is often a no and rarely changes. For what it’s worth, I got a lot of this with Filtrbox in 2009 when I was raising the A. I was at $70-80k MRR and growing just around 10% per month and was told, “if you were over $100k MRR this would be an easy round to do.” I think I heard this over a dozen times.  We would have been at over 100k by the time the round closed. At the time this was super frustrating because investors were using it as a smokescreen and that option value. Had I been growing 20-30% M/M for 6 months, I think it would have been different. Note that 2009 was a very hard time to raise money, but the market is turning in that direction more than where we were in 1H 2015.
  • Growth and solid G2M metrics are a bit of a proxy for gross MRR, but you have to have enough runtime with those numbers for investors to be comfortable they are real and will stick around. Two to three months of high growth might get the meeting, but everyone is going to want to see another chapter or two unless they fall in love with the business on the spot or have FOMO.
  • The Series A crunch is real in that there are many seed-funded companies but not a commensurate growth in Series A funds out there — what this means is that rounds are going to be harder to get done and truly based on fit between the fund and the company. Do your VC research deeply and make sure they are a fit on paper so you don’t waste time.
  • I heard anything from $50k MRR to $250k MRR for Series A on the panel. Not super helpful given the range but illustrates the dynamic a bit.
  • Every investor will tell you to, “Have eighteen months of runway, be able to run at break-even, and it’s about survival if the market gets really bad,” – pretty vanilla and predictable advice, but the reason for it is investor risk-mitigation. If I fund a company’s A round and the sh*t hits the fan, I want to know we can batten down the hatches and ride it out without having to put in more money.
  • “Build relationships, not pitches,” was discussed as well. The panel debated whether this was true for seed rounds vs. Series A. The gist of the debate was that many Series A round investment decisions can happen when the investor is in “advice mode” and the light bulb goes off.

Check out a recording of the full panel below:

 

If this is helpful and/or you have more questions about raising your Series A – let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on Berlin

I recently spent a few days visiting our newest Techstars program over in Berlin. Although I had heard many good things about the city, I didn’t really know what to expect on the ground. The TL;DR is that I had a great few days, met lovely people, great companies and can’t wait to go back. Huge thanks to our Berlin MD, Jens and his awesome staff for great hospitality! 

I was there to work @ Techstars, and also made a point of walking around town as much as I could. Thanks to the generosity of another Techstars staffer (danke, Maria!), I also got to ride a bike to a meeting across town – super fun and great way to get around. Very bike friendly town!  In fact, I witnessed what I can only describe as Berlin’s version of  San Francisco’s Critical Mass. I was in cab and didn’t get a good picture of the whole thing but it was quite a mass! 

A few observations, in no particular order…

Clean, but not sterile – I was impressed with the state of the infrastructure. Roads, bridges, buildings (lots of new construction) but generally everything seemed to be in good shape in the areas I visited. Even our old eastern-bloc repurposed state buildings were in good shape. I’m sure its not the case everywhere of course (we were right in city center). I found some more worn neighborhoods that showed a bit of character but never seemed in neglect. 

Construction! – Berlin is rising, quite literally. Cranes dot the skyline everywhere. As do these crazy colored tubes which I failed to take a picture of. Apparently the water table is pretty high so they have to pump water out of the buildings under construction, and they pump it back into the river.

Vibe – everywhere I went, people were friendly and surprising receptive. Most everyone spoke enough english to be able to deal with this American. The city has a lot of interesting dynamics but generally I felt welcome and people made eye contact, were helpful and pretty chill. One thing I noticed quickly is that Berlin is busy, but not crowded. I really appreciated this. Certain neighborhoods has more hustle and bustle, but I just didn’t see the congestion I expected. The city is “missing” about 1M people post-war, so the space and infrastructure of the city have plenty of capacity for growth. 

Food – I had some Bavarian food, some French food, and some Berliner food and it was all pretty good. This isn’t a food blog so I’m not going deep here but I was pleasantly surprised.  Actually, one of the best meals I had was breakfast a cool little spot called Chipps near our office. Despite popular belief, they do serve real bacon there, and the menu is creative. 

Startup culture – I had a really interesting conversation with a local who explained that the town is in a constant state of evolution. Easy statement, as you could say that about many places, but the message was that there was a transition happening and it was very much about tech, startups and an entrepreneurial culture.  In 2012 it was the creative class, the artists and bohemians who had moved into run-down neighborhoods because rent was cheap, etc. Now tech and startups are starting to really take root as well and there is a clear shift towards business and entrepreneurship. At Techstars, we look for a combination of things to be at the right stage to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and Berlin has got it going on. Not a coincidence we are there. 

halo Berlin class!
the Berlin class

I’m already looking forward to visiting again and checking in on the progress our 1st Berlin class has made, as well as our new Metro accelerator which launches in the fall!

Our investment in Smart Vision Labs

I’m excited to share that we recently led the Series A investment in Smart Vision Labs, Inc. The company is based in New York City, and is changing the way eye exams are done with the world’s first commercially available, mobile phone based autorefractor, the SVOne.

svone

The Smart Vision Labs press release and TechCrunch coverage talk about the global market opportunity and need in detail, so I’ll suffice it to say we believe that seeing well is a right, not a privilege. We also love to see technology used for good and to improve our lives, so these two ideas together are very compelling for us.

When we first saw the SVOne and met the team behind the technology, we were inspired by the potential and the sophistication of the approach Smart Vision Labs has taken. The solution uses wavefront aberrometry, a technology typically found in large, heavy desktop autorefractors in your eye doctor’s office. The team at Smart Vision Labs has shrunk this down, connected it to the cloud and put it into the palm of your hand.  Its true convergence.

Yaopeng Zhou (CEO)  and Marc Albanese (COO) are passionate and mission-driven co-founders with strong backgrounds in the vision and optics space. They have a great story and a long history together. From the early days at grad school, Yaopeng and Marc have had a clear vision (sorry, had to!) around what was possible in this realm and have been pursuing it relentlessly. What started as an idea between two researchers at BU has become a groundbreaking product already in use around the world.  Like every great entrepreneurial journey, they’ve had their challenges and curveballs thrown at them. Yaopeng and Marc have handled all of it well and are monster executors – they just get things done! This Series A financing is another one of those milestones, and we are fired up about where the company is going next.

The entire team at Smart Vision Labs is great and laser focused on the task at hand, and I’m happy to also announce I’m joining the Smart Vision Labs board as a Director.  All of us at Techstars Ventures look forward to digging in and working with Smart Vision Labs on this important mission of improving eye exams and helping people the world over see more clearly.

One Thing Every SaaS Company Should Do

TL;DR

I had a recent experience with a CRM eval that left an impression on me, and I came to the conclusion that running a SaaS evaluation of other solutions on a semi-regular basis can be super helpful.  Keep reading for a few tips/learnings.

Long version;
If you are in the business of providing a cloud-based service and you want to get better, one of the absolute best things you can do is to perform a proper evaluation of OTHER companies’ SaaS offerings. Many companies are constantly iterating and tweaking the sales process, but its not hard to end up somewhat lost in your own world of what you think works best. Bigger changes can be hard and risky. A/B testing takes resources. Blah, blah…. If you run a proper evaluation of another set of SaaS solutions that have reached scale, you can learn a ton about what’s working and what’s not. It might even be smart to do this once every few quarters to ensure you aren’t missing something. Another approach would be to ask a friend to anonymously run through your process and that of 2-3 of your competitors. Its a cheap way to help you see the forest through the trees.

 

From my recent experience, the key here is “proper evaluation”. This means running a process, having requirements, and being thoughtful about methodology. I’m not sure this works if you just sign up for 1-2 services and play around for an hour. Build a spreadsheet, document your process and the data collected. Actually use the products with real data. Try the import tools. Enable the integrations. Use the tools in anger as the Brits say.

I recently went through the exercise of selecting a new CRM platform for the fund, and rather than just pick one I thought would meet our needs (or keep what we had), I decided to run a full-blown competitive evaluation. It was an awesome eye opener. I work with a lot of SaaS companies, and there was something magical about going through the normal interest>trial>shakedown>decision process with 5 products at once. The magic was that I saw strengths and weaknesses in every vendor’s approach and was able to directly compare what I felt was best-of-class against what was happening at some of our portfolio companies. It highlighted a lot of low-hanging fruit and areas to fine-tune, I.E. things that our companies were not doing that would improve the 0-60 or qualification experience, as well as confirmations about what was already where it should be.

In some ways the project was a nice change of pace and a thing to really sink into for a week, and I learned a ton about which companies had a really dialed in process and which didn’t. For many prospective buyers, that initial experience with the brand and product set the tone for the entire evaluation process and perception of the company itself. You can learn a lot about a company in the first few hours after you sign up for something!

A few standout areas from my CRM evaluation:
  • It starts with the form. If you are B2B SaaS and you are not collecting a company name and a phone #, why not? Its a great qualification filter for B2B solutions.  Learning: don’t be afraid to collect the necessary info up front. Its part of qualification!
  • The category leaders got in touch with me within hours. Sometimes under an hour! Not a form email, a call. I didn’t find it annoying because I was actually a qualified lead and wanted to talk to them. Learning: Engage quickly and show me you are hungry and responsive and want my business! It tells me what kind of company you are. Don’t wait a week to call me.
  • Qualification best practice – They qualified me out of the gate in a polite way and then often got me in touch with the “private equity” specialist that understood what I was trying to do. In one case, the company dis-qualified themselves because they knew they wouldn’t be an ideal fit. Bravo! Learning: its ok to be direct and cut me loose if I’m not an ideal customer. Qualify quickly. I’ll respect you more. 
  • Email and human engagement were in sync. No surprise that the two companies that called me within an hour or so had their act together with the marketing email drip campaign also. I wasn’t getting pinged by a human rep and a different robo-marketer at the same time. Learning: consistent and intelligent communication are key to a good experience. If your organization ins’t in sync before I give you my $$, how will it go after? 
  • Help, don’t push. In some cases it was pretty clear the company wanted to just be available to answer questions, but in others they wanted to push me along, like getting shoved from behind in the line for Space Mountain. Guess which one I liked better? Learning: Direct and friendly = great, but there is a fine line. Don’t cross it. You are telling me about the culture of your company. 
  • Product Experience – What I found to be optimal was the built-in wizards to orient me around the UI, and then a pre-sales human available to answer questions. When someone tried to schedule a demo I declined because I didn’t want to sit through them, I wanted to see how intuitive the UI was. It was a leading indicator and a key criteria for us (usability). Learning: Features are important (tablestakes!) but UI and UX matter a ton. I have to actually like the product, regardless of reqs. 
  • Hand-Off – One company in particular did a great job of handing me off from the pre-sales / qualification team to the actual sales rep. Both were on one call, both had the same data on my needs, and I never had to repeat myself. This built a lot of trust. I knew who to call and who was going to work with me going forward. Learning: Be consistent and ensure your workflow between lead-gen, pre-sales, post-sales, etc is seamless. You can lose me at any of these steps if you fumble. 

So, after you are done re-reading Bessemer’s awesome 10 Laws of Cloud Computing guide and gut-checking where you are with the core elements of SaaS, I’d encourage you to run a proper competitive analysis of SaaS solutions in another category.  Hold your own process and customer experience up to what you think is best of breed. You’ll learn a ton, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t find at least 5-10 tweaks that could end up making a real difference.

 

I’d love to hear from you after you do this, or if you have recently and what your experience was!

 

Play it Back! My Codementor session on how to get into Techstars

Earlier this week I did a live Hangout for Codementor on “How to get into Techstars” – it was a Q&A format talk. Codementor is a great platform that provides developers help with roadblocks or issues while building things. Its like having another developer in the room, right when you need them. They have been running a great series of office hours on both technical and non-technical topics.

Some really smart questions were asked and we covered a lot of ground in the hour. Topics covered included the sole founder question, equity, locations, how to prepare, how to stand out and more.  I also shared some of my own experiences and POV on the Techstars program (I was in the very first class in Boulder 2007). In case you are applying to Techstars, or thinking about applying, check out  the Office Hours recording here.  (And you can ask me anything you want that didn’t get covered in the comments on this post as well). Thanks to Codementor for having me on!