Category Archives: SaaS

The Seven Things Founders Need to Know About Sales: SaaStr Workshop Wednesdays, 5/3 at 10am Pacific

Just a quick post to let you know that I’ll be presenting at SaaStr’s Workshop Wednesdays this week, on 5/3/23 at 10am Pacific. Our topic will be The Seven Things Founders Need to Know About Sales, which non-coincidentally happens to be the first section of the Balderton Founder’s Guide to B2B Sales that I wrote and we published last November.

I’ve not done one of these sessions before, but the format looks to be pretty intimate in terms of size and pretty interactive in terms of content (i.e., some lecture but a lot of time allocated for Q&A).

Registraton is free. You can register here.

Here are the seven things that we’ll be covering at the workshop:

  1. Learn by doing: get out there and sell
  2. Customers buy solutions to problems
  3. Sales is 57% listening
  4. The best sellers are curious about everything
  5. Ask open-ended questions
  6. Manage the sales process as a quid pro quo
  7. Don’t talk about competitors unless directly asked

I hope to see you there. It should be fun.

Don’t Say Ending ARR

As long as the country’s in a censorship mood, I figured that I could jump on the bandwagon and propose that we ban discussion of one of my pet-peeve SaaS metrics: ending ARR.

Wait, but aren’t you the guy who said that if you only knew two things about a SaaS company and needed to value it, one would be ending ARR and the other would be its growth rate?

Yes. That’s true. But the primary business of a SaaS company isn’t valuing itself. And, as an operational metric, ending ARR stinks. I dislike talking about ending ARR for the same reason I dislike talking about revenue. In a SaaS company, revenue is a result, not a driver.  Revenue is a math problem, not a key performance indicator (KPI). The same is true for ending ARR. It’s a math problem; just a simpler one.

Let’s use an example to show my point. Imagine you’re at a post-quarter board meeting and one of the executives presents this leaky bucket …

… along with this narrative: “blah, blah, blah … well, it was a good quarter, we landed at 96% of plan … blah, blah, blah.”

How does that narrative make me feel? Generally, angry. How angry? Well, that depends a lot on who’s saying it:

  • If it’s the VP of New Customer Sales, then very angry. They landed at 60% of plan, not 96%.
  • If it’s the VP of Sales (responsible for all new ARR), then still pretty angry. They landed at 73% of plan, not 96%.
  • If it’s the VP of Customer Success (and they’re responsible only for churn), then not angry at all. They were spot on plan though we had a little more shrinkage ARR and a little less lost ARR than plan.  Good job, but I have a few questions.
  • If it’s the CRO, responsible for both new and churn ARR, then back to very angry.  Net new ARR (new ARR – churn ARR) was $825K, 60% of plan, not 96%.

Look, bad quarters happen.  I’m not angry about the bad quarter.  I’m angry when people try to pretend a bad quarter was good one.  Or, even more scarily, at the prospect that someone might actually believe that a bad quarter was a good one.

Talking about ending ARR is like a giant, “Hey look over here!” distraction.  It’s the green arrow that I added above.  Executives should talk about their area of responsibility and characterize theirquarter based on performance in that area.

When a VP of Sales who’s at 60% of plan talks about “a good quarter on ending ARR,” I ask myself when did they get promoted to CFO?  When a CRO who’s at 73% of plan says, “As shareholders we should be happy that we grew the ending ARR 67% year over year,” I think:  no, as shareholders, we pay you to hit the new ARR plan and you’re at 73%. 

When it comes to sales leaders, ending ARR, like patriotism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

The CEO and CFO can talk about ending ARR.  But even they need to get the delicate narrative right — remembering that for a SaaS company at the above scale, it’s all about acquiring new customers to join your NRR expansion flywheel. Here’s the right narrative:

Overall, it was a weak quarter. We landed at 73% of the new ARR plan. While we got close on expansion ARR at 93%, new logo ARR was a dismal 60% of plan — something we’re going to drill into with Kelly in the next section. On the churn side, things were pretty good. We hit the churn target of $625K and while we were able to beat plan on lost-customer ARR, we had $50K more in shrinkage ARR than plan, which Reese will discuss. The net result is that we ended the quarter at 96% of ending ARR, a gap of $550K which we think we can close in 2Q.

Why is this the right narrative?

  • It talks about by performance by area, where action and accountability happen, and not in aggregate.
  • It’s transparent.  It doesn’t pretend a bad performance is a good one, or that 93% of plan is good.
  • It tees up subsequent discussion by the relevant leaders.  Trust me, leading that discussion is a form of accountability all by itself.
  • It discusses ending ARR correctly:  both as a result and as a cumulative metric, which means that, unlike the other period metrics, it’s one that we should strive to re-catch.

The last point is subtle.  Instead of using ARR as a mathematical keel to damp underperformance (by a factor of around six), we’re doing the opposite.  We’re recognizing that even if we hit every other plan number for the rest of year, that we will still end the year with $550K shortfall.  We’re recognizing that and making a commitment to try and catch back up. 

We’re using ending ARR to increase accountability, not dampen it.  Goosebumps.

Hopefully, this explains my modest proposal:  unless you’re the CEO or CFO and it’s the finance section of the meeting, you should never talk about ending ARR.  Talk about what drives it, instead.

Metrics That Matter in 2023: My KiwiSaaS Presentation Slides

Just a quick post to share the slides from the presentation I gave today at the KiwiSaaS conference to discuss the SaaS metrics that matter in 2023 and 2024.

The presentation has three sections:

First, an introduction which quickly reviews the ways the startup world has changed in the past 6 months.  Simply put:  Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in 2021 anymore.

Second, a three-step set of recommendations for what to do about that:  (1) extend your runway, (2) make a plan to re-earn your last round valuation, and (3) enable your next round, likely in 18-24 months, by focusing on the metrics that matter in this new world.

  • Phrasing these strategies in terms of songs/albums:  (1) Staying Alive, (2) Get Back [to where you once were valued], and (3) Born to Run [convince VCs that, “tramps like us, baby, we were born to run” — i.e., that we have a lean machine where ARR is a predictable output of VC investment.]
  • Note that I also did a Balderton webinar (Balancing Growth and Burn in 2023) on this topic with David Thevenon.

Third, a one-slide-per-metric review of the set of metrics that matter in 2023:  ARR growth, free cashflow margin, Rule of 40 score, subscription gross margin, burn multiple, ARR/FTE, CAC ratio, CAC payback period, NRR, and GRR.

  • This includes an explanation of why I excluded (what I view as old school) churn, lifetime value (LTV) and LTV/CAC analysis from those metrics.  That explanation is also available in considerably longer form in my SaaStr talk:  Churn is Dead, Long Live NDR.

The presentation is chock full of links to interesting articles (e.g., an amazing 75-page interview transcript with Sequoia founder Don Valentine as part of an oral history of Silicon Valley, a great breakdown on stock-based compensation by Janelle Teng) and it includes a slide on people to follow and sites to visit if you are interested in this material.  An image of it is pasted below, the presentation itself has live links.

The slides of the presentation are embedded below.

For those who don’t use Slideshare, the presentation is also available on Google Drive.

Thanks to KiwiSaaS for inviting me, the audience for putting up with a remote live presentation, and to the sources I included as data in the slides — particularly RevOps Squared, on whose 2022 SaaS Benchmarks survey I relied fairly heavily.

Appearance on the SaaS Revolution Podcast

SaaStock recently released an interview with me on their podcast, The SaaS Revolution Show.  The interview, conducted by SaaStock founder and CEO Alex Theuma, was notionally about the Balderton Founder’s Guide to B2B Sales that I published late last year.  While we ended up discussing that, we also covered a whole lot more, including:

  • My background as a CMO, CEO, and independent director
  • My work with Balderton as an EIR 
  • Which job I prefer, and why:  CEO or CMO
  • Why we made the Founder’s Guide to B2B Sales
  • Key takeaways from the guide
  • The transition from founder-led sales (FLS) to sales-led (SLS)
  • When to hire your first sales executive or leader
  • Why it’s important to define process (and metrics) early — before you need to
  • The Holy Grail of a repeatable sales process
  • Why salespeople are like airplanes (they only make money when they’re in the air)

If you’re interested in listening to the episode, you can find it here.

I’ll see you at SaaSstock USA in Austin this June where I’ll be talking about conversation intelligence, inspired by my work with Jiminny, a UK-based startup where I sit on the board.

My SaaS Metrics Syllabus

I recently did a consulting project where I worked with an experienced executive to provide a crash course in SaaS metrics.  In order to perform that assignment, I decided not to make an entire course, but simply the syllabus for one, as a way to guide our conversations.

While I have no intention of attempting the Herculean task of turning this ten-page outline into a course, I do think sharing the outline itself is potentially useful for two reasons:

  • It took a large amount of effort to map things into a structure.  I think the structure itself adds value both because it is logical and fairly comprehensive.
  • It provides a lot of embedded links (often but not always to Kellblog) that can help the reader get deeper on various topics.

Here is a link to the outline.  As a teaser, here’s the first part it: