What every SaaS CEO must know
Starting a business is hard. And if it's a SaaS business, get ready for a life of infinite learning and tweaking. Although it requires a lot of work, SaaS CEOs are some of the best-evolved business people around. Getting hands-on on every aspect of business, switching from a founder to a CEO comes with a lot of technical dependencies.
If you are starting out or are guiding your SaaS enterprise to success, here are some things you must always keep your eyes open to.
1. On Sales
CEOs are not expected to sell directly to customers, but there's also no business to run without sales. A CEO who can sell at the initial stage of business is surely an advantage for any startup SaaS business. One thing to understand here is the need to sell will diminish as you build the right leadership and sales team for your company. Also, who doesn't love a CEO who can close deals just as quickly as their sales team?
One thing SaaS CEOs must quickly learn is to interpret sales data and user impressions. Understanding where the enterprise is lacking at any point is crucial to implement changes as quickly as possible. As SaaS businesses are subjected to immense competition and constant feature additions in the market, you should be able to capitalize on any and all opportunities that come your way, well before your competition.
2. On Customers
As a SaaS business CEO, you are in charge of an ever-evolving business. While maintaining the same subscription model, you'll see an ever-evolving list of requirements with an ever-increasing customer base. It's important that you have a robust feedback mechanism running, as it's crucial to make changes as quickly as possible for attracting new users and reduce the churn rate in general.
CEOs will also see an ever-evolving role within their business too. Starting as a sales exec, you'll take an active role in initial hiring, fundraising, team building, mentorship, and every other possible role you could think of in the early stages of the business. One area you might want to give much attention to would be on streamlining your sales process and building the best customer success teams.
As your team grows in size, much of the sales will be handled by your sales and customer success team, taking you out of the equation. But it's absolutely necessary to treat new and existing customers with the same importance. Simply put, your existing customers are your foundation and new customers help you build your business skywards.
3. On Funding
An inevitable role that a CEO must play in a company's growth is that of a fundraiser. No matter how quickly you scale your business with sales, initial funding and scheduled raises are quite important to ensure constant growth for your enterprise. It's always advisable to zero in on your product and make doubly sure it's worth pitching to an investor even as your product evolves into something better.
In an interview with Userpeek, Joanna Debrant, the CEO and Co-founder at Prowly remarked that initial funding might be the most demanding task that a CEO may have to endure, but it's a highly rewarding challenge too. Investors are going to be a key factor in startup life, but finding them will help you and your team gain immeasurable confidence, she added.
4. On Hiring
Anyone who shares the burden of your vision has in her/him the seed to either build or ruin your business. We all know this, but once the company kicks off, recruiters tend to select people just based on pay - the more within our budget the easier to recruit. This you must avoid at all costs if you are in this for the long term.
At any stage of your SaaS startup, hire only if the person shares the same enthusiasm as you. Every other skill can be taught. Look after them as though your business relies on them, and make sure you convey your vision as simply to them as possible. A confused employee is already half as productive as he could ever be.
Your importance as a recruiter will lessen once you build the right leadership team for your SaaS business. This would gradually shift your role into a team builder, one who is responsible to give teammates a higher-level understanding of the vision, and how well are we getting there.
As you build a strong human resources team, it is also essential to develop a pleasant work environment and work culture that fosters growth for seniors and beginners alike. Competition is tough for the right talent, and more pay is no longer the solution to get the best work either.
5. On Team Building
Running a SaaS business is tough, but running a team of uninterested people is even tougher. Whether it's your core team or the teams that later form within your company, it's important to show that you care for them and their efforts. Open appreciation, incentives, group activities, and team outings are just a few things SaaS CEOs could do to maintain morale within teams. It may look simple, but the simplest things are the ones people value the most at times.
One other thing that falls straight on a SaaS CEO's shoulders is to find out what's stopping your team to achieve their best results. Often, clearing obstacles for teams to do their job the best way possible is the coolest way to ramp up productivity.
As you build your team and scale your business, you slowly distance yourself from customers and focus more on the leadership side of the business. Never forget that the people who actually communicate to your customers are the face of your business. So it's important to engage with team leaders and actively find pain points in their routine to make their work easier.
Finally, in addition to making your teammate's life easier, you must also proactively think of the clear career path that teams will go through. This will help teams to have a clear understanding of where they are and where they are going.
6. On Getting Mentored
Finding a SaaS business and transitioning into a SaaS CEO is a fairly tough job. Both roles may feel the same during the initial stages of the business, but as your teams grow, you'll have a clear set of parameters to keep in check as part of your role as a CEO.
It was found in research done by Joseph C Picken, the founder of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, that less than 25% of founders led their companies into their initial public offerings. So yes, the job of a CEO is not a natural progression from a founder.
All of this might seem cumbersome, but here's where you can benefit from a CEO mentor. CEOs who themselves ran SaaS businesses before are perfect mentors for your business, but it's alright to keep pursuing advice from CEOs from your industry as well. More than a sounding board for ideas, mentors often help you test your own limits and grow even more resilient - the key skill of a startup CEO.
As your business grows, you may have to build levels of administration, which can be a make or break for any budding business. CEOs who've handled such a transition could give your practical advice on how to manage resources and make the shift from a SaaS startup to the leaders in your industry.
7. On Vision
Every great product, company, and the empire was built with the strength of the grand vision someone had for their fellow mates. In the case of a SaaS business, you as a CEO are the chief focal point for everyone in your team to look up to for guidance. This is also the most persistent role you play in your business.
Sales, recruitment, and other aspects of running a SaaS enterprise have a level of volatility. Creating and instilling a grand vision for your teammates on the other hand is a more or less permanent job. If done well, you stand a chance to build resilient teams that stands by you through tough times and prosperity. The vision and mission of your company also give employees a clear idea of what they are striving towards, which is a great motivator for self-starters in your team.
It is okay if you don't have a grand vision to start with. Most SaaS founders start with a fledgling idea, hoping to build it into something valuable someday. As you grind your days into building something worthwhile, it's absolutely great to talk to your teammates about the grand vision you want to build. On the bright side, your team gets the chance to build a collective vision for the business, and start working towards it with even more fervor.
With that said, it's important to have a strong vision for your team that attracts talents to seek your business. Turns out, the best in any industry are often unfazed by higher-paid job offers - they'd rather be part of a team that strives to push their limits. As a SaaS CEO, you get a chance to take part in vision-building for all your teammates.
8. On Personal Care
People associate hustle culture more with young business owners, as though that's the only way to win at business. As romantic and adventurous it may seem, taking proper rest, retrospection, and learning breaks are equally essential for successful entrepreneurship. Running a SaaS business is almost like regular entrepreneurship dialed to an 11.
Exercise, diet, and sleep are three things that SaaS CEOs should never sacrifice for productivity. Even Elon Musk sleeps six hours every day. Get into a clear routine that you could stay consistent with so that even teammates and associates could predict the right time to contact you at any time of day.
SaaS CEOs need to look out for the latest developments and talents in their industry, and the best way to do it is through community building and active discussions in forums. If done well, it could elevate your brand into industry leaders with little effort. In addition to brand building, community engagement creates a sense of belonging in a wider family of enthusiastic people who are not necessarily on your payroll.
In the end - well there isn't one...
If done well, a completely in-sync company tests and implements new ideas without your supervision. You will feel ever more interested in the progress teams make as they are empowered to make the right decision on behalf of the SaaS enterprise. This is what a SaaS CEO can expect if things fall into a clear actionable plan. As a CEO, you'd still be finding ways to take the business to the next level. And the cycle repeats.
At Undaku, we help SaaS startups and enterprises to implement digital strategies using our powerful no-code platform. This helps companies mobilize their workforce in a secure manner without having to hire technical resources or spend dollars on custom developments.