Rowan and Birch are both trees common in Scotland and the forests of Estonia. Estonians use these resources as a food source. Birch sap is a popular drink. Rowan berry schnapps a complex delicacy. No-one in Scotland does more than look at either tree. I have never heard of these species being used for food or anything else.
I learned about the potential of Rowan and Birch on a recent visit to Tallinn. Estonia is a little country of 1.3 million people. Our purpose was to find out what makes it one of the most talked about places in tech. Innovative use of resources is at the heart of the story.
Digital ID - The star of the show
The main character in that story is the Estonian Digital ID. Every citizen has a virtual avatar. It allows them to use public services, banking, health care and much more. Everything except marriage, divorce and buying a house can be digital.
Your digital ID is also your signature on any legal document. The digital version of a contract or agreement is regarded as the original. Anything printed and signed is treated as a copy. A total inversion of the way lawyer driven cultures like the US and UK operate.
This virtual self does not need to live in Estonia. You can create your own digital ID through the Estonia e-residency programme for only €100.
Ownership and openness - Two profound principles
It all works because of some fundamental principles. Two in particular struck me. First the citizen owns the data. And everything is open and transparent.
Citizen ownership is not an aspiration or a policy. It is a hard reality that changes the way the whole system works. In our culture security is a tool to build moats or fences or walls. The defences of corporations, banks and entire nations. In Estonia security is designed and built to protect the rights and privacy of each and every individual.
Turning security on its head provides a basis for trust. Openness and transparency cements this by offering a clean and simple form of control. Your digital ID lets you see everyone and anyone who has accessed your data in real time.
Imagine a couple. One is a police officer and the other an ordinary law abiding citizen. The police officer uses that privilege to review data about their partner’s digital behaviour. The partner sees this and asks the police for an explanation. Once the unauthorised access is discovered, the police officer ends up in jail.
This is not made up. Its a true story and every Estonian from the President down knows it. The consequences of being open are profound. Trust has deep foundations. Bottom up rather than imposed from the top. Confidence enables a whole host of digital services and value propositions.
We can all learn from this and apply it.
And the impact runs deeper. I met perhaps a dozen Estonian founders, entrepreneurs and investors during my visit. Every business I learned about was founded on integrity. Digital trust has transformed the entire culture. Both Government and business ethics reflect the highest standards.
How was such a transformation possible?
How did this happen? One of the highlights of the trip was hearing first hand from Linnar Viik. Estonia set itself free during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He was one of the team tasked with building systems for a whole new country. They had no money to spend and no legacy to build on. The innovative choices they made back in the nineties still form the base for digital trust today.
Its a great story and you can listen to Linnar tell it as To E or not to E. It would be easy to conclude that all this was only possible because of the absence of legacy. Estonia had it easy because they started with a green field. We could never do that here.
The Chairman's View
That is both arrogant and unfair. It reminds me of an old joke. Para Handy is sitting on a capstan by the harbour when a stranger approaches and asks for directions. His helpful reply is “Aaah well, you know, I would not start from here."
Estonia emerged from a long history of oppression, authoritarian rule and worse. You would not wish this on anyone. And the country still has a long way to go. Yet they have built a unique foundation with trust at its core.
Its a great reminder that user experience is as much about the road travelled as it is about the destination. We should not complain about the challenges of our legacy - rich developed country, excellent public services and the world’s oldest democracy is not such a bad inheritance. Let’s learn from Estonia and build a better society and better businesses for ourselves. No excuses.
I set off for Tallinn with high expectations. My goal was simple - to listen and learn. The place, the culture and the digital story far surpassed my hopes. My sincere thanks to Peter Ferry, Dianne Ferry, Neil Mathieson and Chris Martin for making it all happen.
This article is a summary of my most powerful first reflections. I aim to write more about the lessons and the ways I can apply them in the weeks to come. You can see a little more about the trip in Tartan in Tallinn. If you get the chance to go yourself, grab it with both hands.
This will be my last blog post before the Christmas season. I have been working on some thoughts about the challenges facing the startup and SaaS ecosystems. Especially here in Scotland. However, it seems churlish to share those. So I am saving it for the New Year and talking about reasons for celebration instead.
The picture above is of one special celebration. Mallzee opened their new office (also home to Appointedd) last Friday. Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney and Royal Mail Group CEO Moya Greene were kind enough to perform the official duties. Both also spent time talking to the teams and hearing about the amazing progress the company has made. Transforming the fashion shopping experience through mobile. As you can see the view is pretty cool as well!
The best part of the whole startup experience is working with great teams. I sit on the boards of 5 companies. The founders, the marketing guys, the engineers and the software geeks are all there. I am also lucky enough to spend time with lots of other startups. Fun people working to build awesome products. Teams are what make business success. They are also what gets me out of bed every day.
A special element with these guys is watching them grow. When I reflect back on the past year I can see so many people who have developed new skills. Built confidence. Extended their talent. I know there is plenty more to come in 2016.
Let me also pick up on those awesome products. Most of the companies I talk to have B2B SaaS products. Between them they could transform almost every aspect of business. For every size of company from family stores to multi-nationals. I also see great work being done for areas like healthcare and education. Outside the commercial sphere in the UK but still a focus for innovation.
My only regret this year has been lack off time. There is so much going on. And so many fantastic opportunities to work with extraordinary founders. I have had to turn down a couple of wonderful startups this year. I wish them all well. Being split for choice is fun but painful sometimes.
Great teams, awesome products, more opportunities than time. Scotland is a pretty good place to be right now. We have the ingredients for a world beating startup ecosystem. And it is all set in one of the most amazing places on earth to live and work.
It is impossible to do justice to the beauty and tranquillity. Home to some of the wildest country and coasts in Europe. Our cities are friendly, efficient and buzzing with life. Scotland is home to some of the finest natural produce you will ever find. The best thing you can do in 2016 is come and see for yourself. You will be most welcome.
Recent market turmoil and a KPMG report showing a slowdown in the UK Tech Sector raise some concerns. Is this a pause or is the technology boom coming to an end? It could go either way but there are more reasons than you might think to be pessimistic. Startup CEOs should be prepared.
KPMG released their respected quarterly Tech Monitor on 19 August. It shows a slowdown in both business activity and employment growth for the UK Tech sector in Q2 of 2015. KPMG’s analysis suggests this may just be a pause in the onward rush of the industry in the UK. They blame the May 2015 General Election. And the continued concerns over the Euro area economy for the slight stall.
The report also includes some indicators of great optimism. The authors believe that UK Tech will put the foot back on the gas and power ahead soon. 57% of respondents to the survey expect an increase in activity over the coming year. And 49% expect this will be accompanied by employment growth. KPMG also cite economic tailwinds from a strong UK economy as a reason for optimism.
The Economic Risks
I hope they are right. But we have reached a stage of the economic cycle where the main risks are on the downside. The upswing may have longer to run but the end is closer than the beginning. On a macro level there are four reasons for this:
1. The UK economic boom is a bit of a myth. Things have gone well over the past couple of years but the fundamentals are still weak. Productivity and wages have only just started to grow. By tiny margins. Government spending and borrowing are still high. Despite all the heat and noise about austerity the real picture is different. The recent budget also chose to take some risks with the employment picture. In the form a big increase to the minimum wage.
2. As we have seen this week China is in trouble. At best this will be a major drag on the world economy. At worst there will be enormous disruption and a significant recession across Asia. Brazil and Russia are already in deep economic waters. The BRICs engine of growth is stalling hard.
3. The Euro area remains a challenge. Greece may not trigger a collapse in the short term. But several countries are on an economic knife edge. Political upheaval could bring many to the brink. Elections are due in France, Spain and (first up) Greece yet again. Unexpected outcomes are certain.
4. Protest as much as you like but we are all affected by the US Tech scene and Investment picture. The numbers here are still growing fast. Near as fast as the number of commentators warning of an impending bust. If this happens the impact will be felt across the world and strongest in the UK.
Small Business Consulting Advice For Startups
Every Tech CEO needs to be aware of the risks. Startups don’t have the resilience or resources to create reserves for such an eventuality. Yet there are a few things you can do even when cash is limited.
This happens because of some fundamental truths about the business cycle:
When a real downturn arrives, be ready to survive. Try to build a position that allows you to take advantage of the opportunities. At least you will be able to disrupt and innovate as hard as you can. Your customers will be searching for new ideas when their markets are shrinking. If possible be in a position to invest against the cycle. You will then reap the rewards when the cycle turns again. You will build a greater business in the bad times if than you can ever achieve in a boom.
If you want small business consulting advice to help grow and develop your SaaS startup, subscribe to our newsletter below.
One of the challenges facing non technical startup founders is outsourcing development work. It is a regular question when I do my small business consulting for startups. So I am delighted to share this guest post from my friend Michael Romilly (@MRomilly) at Waracle. Waracle (@WaracleUK) are trusted by the UK & USA's most innovative businesses to be mobile app developers. They know what they are talking about....
It’s tough going creating software in the mobile age. There’s a tonne of stuff you need to think about. If you’re currently attempting to mobilise an existing web/desktop based software application, the whole thing can seem extremely challenging. Mobile development requires a specific way of thinking and unique expertise, which makes reskilling your existing team of developers challenging. Trying to spin up an entirely new team of mobile developers can also be hard and this is why many brands and businesses turn to an outsourced/agency model in the first instance. This is one of the best ways to get your app into the market quickly and enables you to taper mobile thinking and expertise into your development team gradually over time.
Build, Operate, Transfer
We refer to this approach as a BOT (build, operate, transfer) model. BOT focuses on enabling your company to get a mobile app to market quickly, whilst helping your existing team gain valuable mobile insight from an experienced team of app developers. We refer to this process as ‘positive contamination’ because it offers a commercially and technically risk-managed approach to developing your first suite of mobile applications and diffusing the right thinking and skills into your team. But many brands and businesses struggle to engage effectively with app development agencies because they aren't equipped with the right information.
Build, Operate, Transfer
One of the key problems is the fact that good mobile app developers are in high demand and short supply. This means they tend to be selective about the projects they get involved with. If your project, or approach is perceived as being risky or under-prepared the likelihood of obtaining a costing and timeline is severely diminished. You need to think carefully about your mobile strategy and follow these steps:
1) Define Your Key Measures Of Success
You should always start with the end in mind. Think about what success looks like for your project. This is one of the first questions any mobile app development agency should be asking.
You should think carefully about the following questions:
It’s not always easy getting this part right. Once you understand what success looks like, you can work backwards from this exact point. Your key measures of success should inform the direction of your project at every step. Starting out with a half-baked vision of what you’re trying to achieve is never going to be enough. If you can clarify your thinking at the planning stage it will dramatically increase the chances of your app being successful. Work out exactly what you want from your app and this will help to inform it’s ongoing design, development and optimisation.
2) Get Buy-In From Your Stakeholders
Before you speak to an app development agency, you should conduct a comprehensive stakeholder consultation. This should enable you to get buy-in from key decision makers within your business. Getting the right people involved early in the process will help accelerate the design and launch of your app. Stakeholder buy-in massively adds credibility to your project when approaching a mobile agency and will dramatically increase your chances of getting a comprehensive quote that includes a costing and realistic timescale.
It’s like anything else, you’ll get back what you put in. The more preparation you do at the front end of the project, the more likely you are to get back a realistic scope document with costing and timeline.
3) Create A Detailed RFP
In order to create a detailed RFP (request for proposal) you need to define the scope of your project. This should all relate to your key measures of success and performance indicators. In terms of developing an MVP (minimum viable product), every feature within your app should be designed with these key measures of success in mind. Your RFP should contain a comprehensive summary of what your app is and what you want it to achieve. You should also think about your existing data systems and outline clearly how your app should be integrated inside your existing business processes. Having this information clearly documented will accelerate the time it takes for a mobile agency to respond to your enquiry and helps add credibility to your project.
Think clearly about which platforms you want your app to target. Is it an iOS app? Is it an Android app? Is it both? Do you want to develop for iOS first and evaluate it’s performance before investing in Android (this is quite common)? These are all questions you’ll need to think about and it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of the market you’re competing in. You’ll need to think about how your app will scale if you’re lucky enough to engage a large number of users.
If you’re currently trying to work out how to commission an app development project, try our app readiness test and one of our business development team members will be in touch to discuss your requirements.
4) Be Clear About Your Timescales (Be Realistic)
For many app development companies, balancing resource is a complex and ongoing challenge, so your project start date and overall timeline will be directly governed by the three previous steps that we’ve discussed in this article. If you have all of the above elements in place, you’re probably almost ready to approach an app development agency. Having a realistic understanding of when your project needs to start and finish will help your chosen app development agency to schedule the required resource according to your goals. You need to think hard about what you’re trying to achieve, be realistic about how long things take (usually longer than you first anticipate) and factor in a buffer in case things take much longer than you expect. If there are external project dependencies and third parties who can influence the momentum of you project, this also needs to be factored into your project timeline.
5) Consider Your Budget
Developing software is complex. In order to get to grips with the cost of the project and your required budget, it’s essential to have an understanding of these associated complexities. You’ll need to be able to demonstrate to a mobile development agency that you have a clear idea of how the software will work and integrate with your existing business systems.
Very often, clients vastly underestimate the cost of marketing. Designing and developing your app is the equivalent of reaching first base. It’s absolutely paramount that you consider how you’re going to market and promote your app and develop a projected cash flow based on the associated marketing activities. The app store is extremely competitive and standing out from the crowd is tougher than ever. You should consider how to optimise your app and think about other creative ways to spread your message.
Here’s something that will help you frame the scope of your project and think about a budget: http://www.kinvey.com/app-cost-estimator
If you’re a business in the market for a mobile app, contact Waracle today to kick start the conversation.
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Customer Onboarding often determines the success or failure of SaaS companies selling to SMEs. Look at onboarding as a strategic priority. Within your end to end sales and marketing process. Experiment and test to find the right tactics. Keep the need to generate sustainable LTV front of mind.
A Golden Opportunity
Another energetic and intelligent discussion in the SaaS Scotland Group two weeks ago. We focused on Customer Onboarding. The founders had a great selection of ideas and suggestions as you can see by looking at the ideas page. The session reinforced a key point. Customer Onboarding is a critical element of the SaaS end to end revenue process.
At this stage a SaaS company has a golden opportunity to do three things:
Onboarding and SaaS for SME Success
It is rare for companies to achieve this nirvana. Generating leads at low prices is still doable. People sign up for free trials en masse. But then the theory breaks down. Potential customers either don’t convert or don’t even bother using the free product. Those early sign up numbers evaporate before any revenue appears.
Soon the focus turns to onboarding. Startups ask questions like:
Or even, are we signing up the right customers?
The success of startups selling SaaS to SMEs is often determined at this stage of the recurring revenue model. Many entrepreneurs start out with a dream view of the whole process. Generate leads online. Sign people up for a free trial. Build automated onboarding processes. Convert triallists to paying customers at a sensible rate. Add up the numbers and SaaS looks like a great business.
SaaS Is Not That Easy
5 Strategic Priorities
These are valid and important questions. But they are questions of tactics. The answers will vary by company and by product. There is no repeatable formula for success. Remember some core strategic principles when addressing the challenge:
An Opportunity Not A Burden
In the course of my small business consulting I often hear startups that struggle with onboarding. Sometimes it sounds like teams see this as a burden. Onboarding is a great opportunity to engage direct with your customers. Often it will be the best chance you get. Take the wide view of sales & marketing. Treat onboarding as an equal priority with the rest of your sales and marketing process.
The Customer Onboarding Project is making good progress. Please join in to help some awesome SaaS companies grow. Lets continue leveraging the power of the community beyond the ideas. Each business needs to find the right specific execution plan. Join Sunstone to be part of that process.
Our SaaS Group project on Customer Onboarding is going well. The numbers of participants, ideas and votes have all doubled in the past two weeks. I am enjoying seeing the engagement and the ideas. Check them out by following the link in the text and make your contribution. The more ideas and votes we get into the mix the better. You will be helping some great SaaS companies.
Stimulate Some New Ideas
There have been a couple of great items to stimulate thoughts this week. SaaScribe is becoming an excellent source for new ideas. This article looks at the possible benefits of concierge onboarding. Even in SME SaaS this can be a practical and cost effective option. I am also looking forward to reading the latest book from the folks at Intercom. Titled Customer Engagement, it looks full of useful ideas. Something for the weekend!
Generating great ideas is part of a process. Planning and execution are also needed. So what’s next? How can the output make a real difference to real businesses?
SaaS Scotland Group Workshop
For me I know the first step will be cracking discussion when the SaaS Scotland Group meets on 22 June. This is a fantastic group of founders. All are passionate and committed. Putting their whole focus into their businesses. Feedback and even more new ideas will fizz around the room. Everyone in the group will go away with some specifics and execute what works best for their situation.
Therein you have both the problem and the solution. Advice is general but answers are specific. You need to find the right idea and execute in the right way for your business, right now, in this context. That’s why my focus is world class small business consulting a startup can afford. Templates don’t work. The challenge is to replicate specific one to one advice. Tailored to the exact needs of each company.
The Customer Onboarding project is harnessing the community to power up ideas. Part of the Sunstone mission will be to continue doing that. I want to strengthen the follow up as well so here’s my plan.
I hear some people don’t live in Scotland. We have plenty of space but until you get here you can also contact me via Klets for a free chat. Just follow this link.
Small Business Consulting Help With Execution
Choose Your Own Action
My goal is to make this work for as many startups as possible. Building a business using the SaaS recurring revenue model is tough. But selling SaaS to SMEs is a great business opportunity. I believe sharing as a community can help grow and build SaaS businesses. That’s what this is about.
I am a bit rubbish at calls to action so let me finish with a choice instead. After reading this you can do one or more of these:
Building a SaaS business can feel like one long series of experiments. No-one can afford to just keep trying random ideas. My new project using Codigital provides a great engine for the startup community. We can collaborate to find the best ideas about customer onboarding. Everyone who participates in the project will benefit.
Sometimes the SaaS recurring revenue model feels like a variation on an old cliche. Run enough A/B tests on enough scenarios and you will create a unicorn…in the end. Right now some start ups are raising enormous amounts of cash. You could be forgiven for thinking they plan to follow this approach to its logical conclusion. Things are a little harder if you don’t live on the world of multi million dollar seed rounds.
If your cash runway only extends to trying a few ideas, how do you find the best? This month I am trying an experiment to help SaaS companies answer this question. This article outlines the test. Summarises progress to date. And is honest about an important limitation. You will also find this link Sunstone Codigital Onboarding Project . We would love to have your contribution.
Background and the Experiment
I facilitate an awesome group of SaaS startups in Scotland. When we meet the exchange of ideas and experience generates real value for everyone. We also have a slack group. This is a great tool for keeping the the conversation flowing every day. I thought it would be great if we could add more ways for the community to collaborate. Evaluating ideas generated and ranking them is ideal. An old friend recently introduced me to Codigital. A SaaS startup with a product which does just that.
Here’s how it works. Ask an open question and start a project to share ideas. Anyone you invite can suggest an idea as an answer to the question. So far so Quora. Then the clever bits. First any participant can suggest edits to every idea. That means the answers can emerge as a collaboration.
Rating is not by simple upvotes. Participants rank ideas by a series of head to head comparisons. Kind of serial A/B testing. What emerges is a proper evaluation of the merits of each idea. Collaboration and consideration not just favourites or likes.
I love the concept so I decided to give it a try. The discussion topic for my next SaaS Group discussion is customer onboarding. I have set up a Codigital project with this question:
“What are the best ways to onboard SaaS B2B customers?"
Progress and Participation
4. Proactively contact trial lists, offer to run trial with them online
5. No catch all answer. Depends on platform, vertical and general skill of target users
6. Only set up a free trial for people who really want to try it out.
7. Provide free trial period initially
These are in the rank order at the time of writing this post. If you don’t agree then jump in and share your own thoughts. The ideas that rank at the top are always interesting. Sometimes the more innovative ideas lurk further down. Keep an eye out for originality as well as popularity.
The project will remain open for another couple of weeks. I hope it will fuel a great discussion in the SaaS Group. I am looking forward to sharing the results.
After just a few days, the process is already working. We have had 7 ideas from 8 participants. Most of those participants have also taken part in the ranking exercise. The app provides a nice summary which you can see opposite:
The ideas also look promising. This is what we have so far:
1. Demonstrate the service’s value to the business
2. Targeted relevant messages throughout the trial lifetime
3. Put a screencast of a demo trial on your website
Benefits and Limitations
One of the reasons this app attracted me was past experience. My previous firm carried out a project of this type with all UK staff. 15,000 people in all. The topic in that case was applications for the Internet of Things. It gathered over a hundred ideas. More than 10,000 staff were active participants. I was the partner responsible for the project. I learned a whole lot both good and bad. Codigital is the opportunity to put these into practice and deliver even better results.
The openness and flexibility of this approach was a key benefit. We received a much broader range of suggestions. Far more than we could ever have imagined on a traditional project. One of my favourites was right before launch. A junior in the post room offered to create an animation to introduce the concept. His drawing and storyboarding were stunning. Last I heard he was shooting up the ranks in marketing.
We used a different mechanism to score ideas. A sort of virtual stock market. This was great at encouraging participation. Although it did tempt some people to game the system. I think Codigital avoids this risk.
More important, the evaluation did tend to favour the more obvious answers. The top suggestions are top for a reason so this is not entirely a bad thing. But there is a risk of missing the true innovations. The out of the box thinking. As noted above, I will be scouring the list for this type of contribution.
This brings me to the biggest single limitation. Generating and selecting great ideas is difficult. It is only one step in delivering business improvement. Executing those ideas in a real business is what counts. My previous project was fun but frustrating for this reason. Our client didn’t pick up and run with anything we suggested. We didn’t have a plan to help them execute. Result - some great conversations but no real change.
Execute with World Class Small Business Consulting a Startup Can Afford
That is the essence of why small business consulting the Sunstone way is different. My focus is to help startups grow and develop. Not to create great reports.
I will be keeping a close watch on the progress of my project. I will also be working on tools and support. Aiming to help participants take advantage of the ideas generated. I need your help. Please join the project. Share your ideas and collaborate with the great suggestions already contributed. Everyone will benefit.
Building and growing a startup is tough. Underneath all the Unicorns are hundreds of companies battling for investment. The growth of Slack or WhatsApp is record breaking. It challenges founders everywhere to hustle for traction. Read the endless articles on beautiful UX design. And remember the struggles to achieve product/ market fit.
Maybe that’s why entrepreneurs often ask for more help. But the best source of help is within. Startups are the best source of innovation in business and technology. Teams also advocate powerful values. Openness, sharing and learning are at the core of the startup dream. Innovation and values lay the foundations for amazing communities.
EIE15 - Scotland's Premier Startup Event
Here in Scotland we had the premier event for our startup community this week. EIE 15 brought together a bunch of amazing companies. The largest gathering of investors we see all year. And every advisor and supporter in the ecosystem. From inspirational speeches to 1 minute pitches with a heady brew of networking. Its an awesome day.
Community Makes the Difference
Anyone can see that it is impossible to recreate Silicon Valley in a 1,000 cities. Hero entrepreneurs and multi billion dollar funding rounds are beyond most places. But we all have the potential to build a great community. I love following and celebrating startup communities. Some of the best ideas and the biggest changes are rooted in community efforts. For example the startup community in South Africa is tackling the problem of xenophobia @iafrikan. Or explore the incredible startup world of Trondheim in Norway @arcticstartup.
Community brings startups three things. Working together means resources, experience and connections get shared. Everyone grows faster as a result. Openness allows small teams to build on the efforts of others. Testing products, linking APIs and tackling markets. Connected ecosystems offer support and encouragement. Just knowing that others have been through the fire and lived makes a difference.
Small Business Consulting to Help Build and Grow
We Can All Be Part of Something Great
“Its not a zero sum game” is a favourite mantra. This is what it means.
How often do you hear that a startup is going to change the world? Communities of startups will change the world. Groups not individuals will be the mechanism. The future of work will be self employed, networked and varied. Fewer and fewer people will work in a corporation or for a government. The skills we learn in our twenties will need to evolve or transform. Everyone will have 4, 5 or 6 “careers”. Communities will support and celebrate this lifestyle.
Work will be for a lifetime. The idea of retirement will become outmoded. Each individual will choose to vary the pace and intensity of work. Adapting to life circumstances along the way. It has to be this way. Demographics and economics will not support the current model. Technology is busy breaking it up.
Not every startup community will be the home of billionaires and unicorns. The vast majority will consist of hard working people, co-operating and succeeding. Having fun and living life well. We all have the chance to be part of something great.
EIE15 reminded me that we have many of the elements in place here in Scotland. Structural basics include great universities and a supportive Government. Two incredible companies have reached “unicorn” status. Skyscanner and Fanduel - check them out. The exhibition hall was full of great entrepreneurs aspiring to join them.
More huge successes would be welcome. Our urgent need is to build a strong community of mid size growing businesses. Too many startups are caught in a trap of small. The billion dollar blowouts are great . We must back them with hundred or more in the $10-100million range. There are lots of companies with the potential. I could list 20 without thinking. The challenge is to make the step from early stage traction to established business easier.
The community also needs a voice. We connect through big events like EIE15. A host of meetups and other small scale events are also available. Open Tech Calendar lists 68 right now. On a daily basis hubs like Codebase, Entrepreneurial Spark and Rookieoven (my favourite) are home to buzzing groups of founders. Someone needs to bring these stories together and tell them to the wider world.
This week reminds me to keep helping startups grow and develop. My small business consulting is all about this focus. This is a community effort. It is about answering questions not a defined formula. If you want to join those discussions subscribe below.
Tuesday 28 April was the third gathering of a group of SaaS companies in Scotland. I am lucky enough to facilitate the discussion. It is some of the most fun I have. This time round we concentrated in customer acquisition. You can see some of the ideas shared in more detail here. Follow this link to find a list of all the great companies that participate.
The main topic was the benefits of Inbound v Outbound approaches. I also posted on Medium about some of the thoughts stimulated:
The Best Way to Grow the SaaS Revenue Model?
Openness and sharing
Whatever tactics you favour, SaaS growth is not an easy nut to crack. One thing we can do is help each other get there. There is a already a great spirit of openness and sharing when the group gets together. I also love the eMail Alan Bonner sent after the event. Some great ideas. I have shared the full text on the Ideas page.
Ways of sharing
I have a couple of other ideas which might help things along….
There is very little data available on the SaaS marketplace. I have made a start on building something for Scotland. Have a look at my SaaS Scotland page for a collection of 192 Scottish SaaS companies. I would love to add to this database if you know of others that I have missed. I will also look to add more than just basic data in due course.
We already have a LinkedIn Group for SaaS. I have now switched this to be an open group. Feel free to join in. I will be honest and say that I am not convinced by LinkedIn as a way of sharing and engaging. So I have also set up a Slack channel. Drop me a line if you would like to contribute.
How do you picture the sales engine for your business? I facilitated a workshop on conversion for 9 SaaS companies this week. We had a great discussion and there was no shortage of great ideas from the entrepreneurs. Everyone recognises that revenue generation is an end to end process but there is a wide range of different ways of imagining how it works. Images are incredibly powerful and sharing the strengths and weaknesses of different visuals is a fascinating way of illuminating some important messages.
How do you imagine your sales process?
Is it a funnel or is it a sieve?
The sales funnel in various forms is probably the most common metaphor. I have always had an instinctive problem with this image and here’s why. In the real world everything that goes into a funnel comes out the other end. We all know that this is not how the sales pipeline works for any business. The usual funnel graphic also encourages a pretty blunt, law of large numbers approach. Pour enough website visitors or twitter followers in the top and you will make enough money it seems to say but this only works if your product and service are good enough. Sheer volume is not enough.
Finally, a funnel is often presented as a closed system. Potential customers are influenced as much by the events of their own lives and the actions of the competition as they are by your efforts to engage their attention. This gives rise to an image which is more like a leaky funnel or as someone described it a sieve.
I prefer to think of the process of attracting, engaging with and selling to new customers as a series of stepping stones. Each stone is different in shape and size and the pattern is scattered so that different customers adopt different paths through the process. Of course, if someone misses a stone or slips off they are swept away and we lose them from the process.
This conveys some of the complexity but it still implies a linear journey. Winning and keeping customers is more like a continuous cycle. The environment, the competition and user expectations change all the time. No matter how successful your business is you will always be learning and improving the conversion process. Every time you win a paying customer you will be trying to upset to grow revenues from that customer. All the while you are winning new customers, you also need to make sure your product and support are delivering the service that delights your existing customers and prevents churn.
Measuring = Listening
Just in case this was beginning to sound too easy, you also need to remember that customer take different paths. Ideally you would be able to curate a unique journey for every customer. In practice, this is still too challenging but the best companies are able to identify patterns and manage different groups of customers differently. Good use of analytics to identify behaviour trends and build customer profiles, for example by industry or by customer size, can give a well tailored experience.
Analytics is a whole other topic but one observation here. You can measure everything but it is very important not to use measures as goals or benchmarks. With analytics, measurement is listening. Allow the numbers to speak to you and you will be half way there.
Finding order in chaos
“Chaos: When the present determines the future but the approximate present does not determine the approximate future."
I was lucky enough to be with some great companies at the workshop and I make no apologies for listing them below. My learning was that it was possible to develop order in the chaotic system of SaaS sales and service. Success is a combination of precise targeted actions, listening to customers at every stage and some imagination to bring your image of the customer to life.
If you are interested in taking the conversation further or setting up a SaaS Conversion Workshop, please get in touch.
My thanks to the great companies that made this one possible: Appointedd, Float, MakeitSocial, GetSpoonfed, SpecifiedBy, My1Login, LogicalWare, Cojengo, Marketry.
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.