\I had the pleasure of speaking with Harry Stebbings for the second time on the SaaStr podcast released today. On this episode we took a different tact, focusing more on the zero — 1 enterprise stage and how to get your first referenceable customers vs. scaling post Series B. Please listen here if interested in how to grow and gain your first Fortune 500 customers — show notes below.
SaaStr 190: Why SaaS Founders Should Not Sell Their Products in The Early Days, How Founders Can Build Relationships with Enterprise CIOs and The Right Way To Think About Discounting and Pilots with Ed Sim, Founding Partner @ Boldstart Ventures
In Today’s Episode You Will Learn: • How Ed made his way into the world of VC from one very meaningful high school lecture that changed his life and career path? • What does Ed mean when he says “founders should not sell their product to enterprise in the early days”. Starting from the ground up, what can founders do to begin that relationship building process with enterprise buyers and CIOs? What can a startup do to establish that trust in the mind of large buyers? How much of a role does VC backing provide in comforting enterprise buyers? • What would Ed advise founders contemplating the debate of going SMB up to enterprise or enterprise to SMB? What role should product play in this decision-making process? What are the leading indicators in testing the product that founders should observe for and guide their direction? Where does Ed most often see founders make mistakes here? • How does Ed think about discounting? Would he agree with a previous guest that “discounting is now table stakes”? Rather than the financial element, what does Ed believe the founder should really be looking to get from the buyer in terms of commitment? How does Ed approach and asses pilots? To what extent should they be free or paid? What can be done to set the benchmarks for success and ensure closing?
What does Ed know now that he wishes he had known in the beginning?
Quality or quantity of logos?
What would Ed most like to change in the world of SaaS?
We at boldstart ventures have regular dialogue with Fortune 500 IT and business executives who are at the forefront of creating more agile organizations. Along those lines, I’ve been exploring new storytelling mediums and have put together a few different Series on Medium (best on mobile) sharing some of our thoughts on how CIOs should think like VCs and move earlier stage to partner with startups. Read here for the full story…
Consumer companies are the ones that drive the headlines, that generate the most clicks on Techcrunch, and are top of mind for many in the tech industry. So I’d like to celebrate this brief point in time where the enterprise strikes back. While one of the darlings of the last 10 years, Facebook, is getting pummeled, the enterprise market is back in the spotlight.
Look at the Dropbox IPO which priced above its initial value and came out white hot at the end of one of the worst weeks in stock market performance. Couple that with Mulesoft being bought for 21x TTM revenue (see Tomasz Tunguz analysis) at $6.5 billion and Pivotal’s recent S-1 filing and you can see why the enterprise market has everyone’s attention again. However, I’ve been around the markets long enough to know that this too shall pass.
The real story in my mind is about what’s next. It’s true that Salesforce and Workday have created some of the biggest returns in recent enterprise memory. And with that, VC money poured into every category imaginable as every VC and entrepreneur scrambled to create a new system of record…until there were no more new systems of record to be created. My view is that we will see many more of these application layer companies go public in the next couple of years and that will be awesome for sure. There will also still be some amazing companies that raise their Series C, D and beyond funding rounds with scaling metrics. There will also be the few new SaaS app founders who have incredible domain expertise reinventing pieces of the old guard public SaaS companies.
However as a first check investor in enterprise startups, the companies that truly get my attention are more of the infrastructure layer companies like Mulesoft and Pivotal. We are at the beginning stages of one of the biggest IT shifts in history as legacy workloads in the enterprise continue to move to a cloud-native architecture. Being in NYC working with many of the 52 Fortune 500 companies who are undergoing their own migrations and challenges makes us even more excited about what’s ahead. The problem is that as an investor in infrastructure, it’s quite scary to enter a world where AWS commoditizes every bit of infrastructure and elephants like Microsoft and Google are not far behind. Despite that, it’s also hard to ignore the following facts:
Enormous spend and growth for public cloud and app infrastructure, middleware and developer software of $50b (Gartner, Pivotal S-1)
Rise of multi-cloud
Fortune 1000 digital transformation journeys still in early innings
Most legacy workloads are still locked on-prem and not moved to any cloud infrastructure
Every large enterprise is a software company which means developer productivity is paramount
Infrastructure market moves way too fast and more software needed to help manage this chaos
New architectures = new attack vectors and security needs to be reimagined
and many more threads which can create new billion dollar outcomes. Key here is tying this all to a business problem to solve and not just having infrastructure for infrastructure’s sake.
SaaS to Infrastructure, Salesforce and Mulesoft
Salesforce clearly sees the future and it’s in moving a layer deeper into the infrastructure stack, and combining the world of application with back-end and cloud with on-prem. The irony is that the company that led the “no software” movement is the one that bought Mulesoft, a company where 1/2 of its revenue is from software installed on-premise. What Salesforce clearly understands is that in the world of enterprise, integration becomes king as organizations constantly look to get disparate applications, databases and other systems to talk to each other.
“Every digital transformation starts and ends with the customer,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in a statement. “Together, Salesforce and MuleSoft will enable customers to connect all of the information throughout their enterprise across all public and private clouds and data sources — radically enhancing innovation.”
It’s a digital transformation journey, one that every Fortune 1000 is undergoing. In a world where Gartner predicts that 75% of new applications supporting digital businesses will be built not bought by 2020″, you can see why Mulesoft’s integration platform helps Salesforce future proof itself and embed itself in a future where developers rule.
The Pivotal Story and Digital Transformation
If you are looking for a story about how large enterprises digitally transform themselves into agile software organizations (to the extent they can), then I suggest reading Pivotal’s recently filed S-1 on Friday. Their ascent over the last 5 years mirrors many of the trends we are hearing about on a daily basis; cloud in all forms — public, private, hybrid, and multi; agility; rise of developers; monolithic apps to microservices, containers, continuous integration/deployment, abstraction of ops and infrastructure, and every Fortune 500 is a software company in disguise. Their growth to over $509mm of revenue from $281mm 2 years ago is a case in point. What Pivotal understood early is that there is no digital transformation and agile application development without infrastructure spend. Benioff clearly understands this which is why he paid such a high multiple for Mulesoft.
For those that don’t know what Pivotal does, here is what they do in a nutshell:
PCF accelerates and streamlines software development by reducing the complexity of building, deploying and operating modern applications. PCF integrates an expansive set of critical, modern software technologies to provide a turnkey cloud-native platform. PCF combines leading open-source software with our robust proprietary software to meet the exacting enterprise-grade requirements of large organizations, including the ability to operate and manage software across private and public cloud environments, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, VMware vSphere and OpenStack. PCF is sold on a subscription basis.
I’ve been fortunate to have a chance to watch closely through my first check into Greenplum many moons ago which ultimately sold to EMC and spun back out as Pivotal (along with some VMWare assets). I also remember the journey the founders were taking on when they decided to sell into P&L units at Fortune 500s charged with making a more agile company. Instead of selling infrastructure to IT, they were able to sell a vision of how P&L units could deliver on their goals faster. Difficult in the beginning, but proved out over time. These P&L units were the one’s charged with creating the bank of the future, the hotel of the future, the insurance company of the future, all centered around a better customer experience driven off of one platform that allowed developers to be more productive and delivered on any cloud.
My only fear about all of this enterprise infrastructure excitement is that like the SaaS markets of yesteryear, this attention will attract way too much venture capital, driving up prices, and reducing opportunities to create meaningful exits. It’s great that enterprise infrastructure is top of mind, but part of me prefers for it to stay in the background, stealthily delivering amazing results.
2017 was another year of growing, learning, investing and partnering with amazing founders. Once again, we are grateful to have the opportunity to work with so many amazing founders, advisors, co-investors, and other collaborators to bring the boldstart family together.
Before diving into yet another year and list of predictions for enterprise in 2018, we’d like to recap a few thoughts and moments from 2017.
Thematically our new investments include 4 targeting the “Rise of the Developer,” 3 in “Intelligent Automation,” and 1 in “Decentralized Computing;” geographically 4 are in NYC, 3 in Bay Area, and 1 in LA (more on our themes)
6 portfolio companies raised Series A financings including Manifold, Hypr, and 4 unannounced, 1 raised a Series B (unannounced), and Security Scorecard raised a $28mm Series C.
2 exits including yhat (sold to Alteryx — AYX NYSE) and init.ai, one an early investment in a data science platform and the other on NLP for developers.
We co-founded MState (fka hyperfab, read Coindesk article) with Rob Bailey to help bring enterprise company building expertise and Fortune 500 connections to the blockchain community. Our partners include IBM and one unannounced Fortune 50.
We built out our CXO advisory board and further cemented our Fortune 500 relationships to help our portfolio cos scale from “founder-market” fit to product market fit in an accelerated timeframe (meet our advisors). This resulted in tons of collaboration with large enterprises ranging from product feedback to pilots and customer relationships.
“The Law of Accelerating Returns” by Ray Kurzweil is truer than ever before: the rate of change in a wide variety of evolutionary systems (including but not limited to the growth of technologies) tends to increase exponentially.
In other words, today is the slowest rate of technological change you will ever experience in your life and doing nothing is worse than doing something. Keep this in the back of your mind as you think about the biggest transformation in enterprise tech; the re-platforming of corporate America from legacy to cloud/hybrid cloud and monolithic software apps to microservices driven development. With this pace of change accelerating, everyone will have to move earlier in the food chain; corporates will need to work with earlier stage startups (we are experiencing that phenomenon in our portfolio) and VCs will have to go earlier to invest in those founders before they take off.
NYC has deep enterprise tech: the NYC you imagine that is full of ad tech and media is not the NYC that we see. Some of our latest investments in NYC include founders building companies in serverless, open source data streaming, decentralized biometric security, splunk for customer data, and developer productivity for dynamic code testing. There will be more deep enterprise tech startups founded, funded, launched, and scaled out of NYC in 2018. The talent base is improving, the customers are here, and the west coast VCs are paying attention. A sidebar is that NYC is and will continue to be one of the best places to launch any crypto-related company with Consensys as a base, the large number of fin tech entrepreneurs in NYC, and also with IBM in close proximity, one of the leaders in the enterprise blockchain. That is why we are also so excited about Mstate.
Continued barbelling of VC will continue in 2018:. Either we see lots of smaller or seed funds at one end of the barbell or mega funds on the other end. It’s increasingly becoming tough to be caught in the middle to maintain ownership in your winners, and we will see more established VCs like Sequoia raise mega funds to counter the Softbank Vision effect. As for us, we are continuing to double down on our old school VC model, first check in, leading or co-leading, and rolling up our sleeves.
CIOs are the new VCs: this is the year that Chief Information Officers start acting more like VCs. Corporate America is pressured to decrease costs and improve customer interactions and every Fortune 500 is a technology company. Expect this trend to continue and what this means is that CIOs will take a portfolio approach, make some bets, and double down on their winners. There will be lots of room for startups to wedge their way into large corporates and they will have every opportunity to turn pilots into production. This speed of adoption of new tech will accelerate at the largest enterprises, and they will be reliant on early stage startups to do so.
Rise of the developer in the Fortune 1000: According to Gartner 75% of app development supporting digital business will bebuilt, not bought. There are more devs, more corporates who need more dev tools and services, and we are seeing continued adoption in the largest companies. Tied to this will be a need for a hybrid, cloud/on-prem deployment and we are excited about portfolio companies like replicated that play to this future.
GDPR is the next Y2K:GDPR kicks off in May 2018, and we are convinced it is going to be a massive problem and will sneak up on many enterprises.GDPR is all encompassing and focuses on protecting a customer’s PII (personally identifiable information) and hits every segment of the data pipeline from how developers access data as they create new apps to finding and monitoring all of a company’s PII to eventually allowing end users the right to be forgotten. This will be a huge boon in data and security spend in 2018 directly tied to this.
Enterprise blockchain will prove itself: Cryptocurrencies are hot but the tech powering this, blockchain gets less attention. 2018 will be the year that many Fortune 500s that are piloting this tech will bring applications into production. There’s been lots of buzz for the need for a shared, distributed ledger but 2018 is the year we see production level use cases in the wild.
Rise of Chief Data Officers: As the value of an organization’s data continues to rise, we will see many more Fortune 500s create the Chief Data Officer position. This is a trend that kicked off over the last 2 years and will only accelerate in 2018. This role is crucial as companies look to consolidate to a data lake (cloud or hybrid cloud) to prep for a future driven by AI and machine learning. Investment opportunities will abound as data ops becomes the new dev ops and the need for pipelining software to go from raw data to prepped data increases. This Chief Data Officer will also be responsible to manage the impact of GDPR (see above).
AI is not a market, AI is embedded in every application: AI is not a market, it’s an enabling technology just like Java, wireless, and blockchain are. We said this in our predictions last year for 2017 (AI is table stakes) and this will accelerate in 2018. Some call this “ambient AI” and I just call it software. The real enterprise use cases that will continue to scale is the automation of the back office and the move away from robotic process automation (RPA) to Intelligent Automation (cognitive layer) and the continued move from AI in the back office and moving to the front office in every industry.
Move to cloud accelerates, serverless hits early majority: We are still at the tip of the iceberg as enterprises move from legacy to cloud or hyrbrid/cloud. AWS has dominant market share but multi-cloud becomes a must-have for most Fortune 1000 organizations. This includes choosing best of breed by cloud vendor (Google for tensorflow, AWS for s3 and serverless, etc) and also distributing workloads over multiple clouds. With this, serverless and event-driven workloads will continue to proliferate as companies move beyond AWS Lambda and start using Google Cloud Functions and other solutions.
Dev Sec Ops is the hot topic in security: With the velocity of software development and the reuse of software components, building in security at developer level becomes a must have. Securing open source dependencies like our portfolio co Snyk, managing service to service authentication and policy, encrypting traffic and more become hot areas in 2018.
Quantum dabbling: We will hear about more and more enterprises explore the use of quantum. In 2017, new languages were created from companies like Microsoft and IBM to take classical algorithms and help repurpose for quantum, and this will accelerate in 2018 as the Fortune 500s start building out skunkworks teams to explore use cases. We are still a few years away from having a quantum computer perform calculations faster than a classical machine but once that happens, there will be tremendous opportunity for startup activity.
Lately after every conversation, I feel like the world is being divided into two camps and there is a massive battle going on in terms of who is going to own them and how. To oversimplify, I’ll call it pre-customer and post-customer domination. And there are companies looking to blur both of those categories as well.
It’s pretty hard to create a new system of record these days as Salesforce, Marketo, Gainsight and the like are building tighter lock-in around their products. That’s not to say it can’t be done as those companies have larger fish to fry, mainly huge enterprise customers and $1mm + deals. Opportunities abound in the SME (small, medium enterprise), and we’ve seeded a number of founders going after that space.
I finally had a chance to take a quick read of the respective S1 filings for AppDynamics and Mulesoft. While the growth for each company is quite amazing, two thoughts jumped out at me.
As we move to a cloud-only world with instant-on capabilities and low friction in onboarding customers, why does professional services revenue keep increasing year over year for these enterprise cloud businesses. Secondly, as the world continues to move to the cloud, why does on-prem software exist any more?
Looking at both S1 filings, it’s clear that AppDynamics and Mulesoft have caught on to what Salesforce already knows – if you want to be a massive business you also need to sell professional services. As these tech companies get larger and larger, their target customer also increases in size as these vendors look to move from 6 to 7 figure deals. In order to support continued ARR growth upstream, some of the best companies successfully use professional services as a weapon and make implementation, support and training part of the sale. See Jeff Leventhal’s post (boldstart venture partner and Workrails cofounder/CEO) on why services continue to matter for cloud vendors.
Same goes for why on-prem. In both S1s, we can see Mulesoft and AppDynamics discussing the need for multiple delivery models as many larger customers have regulatory and compliance needs, esp. in banking, insurance, and health care. On-premise and hybrid cloud deployments are not going away despite the continued adoption of the cloud. There is a whole world of what being enterprise ready from a product perspective looks like, and how SaaS companies can use new technology like Docker to have the best of both worlds, SaaS and on-prem without multiple code bases. If interested, take a look at EnterpriseReady.io curated by Replicated (full disclosure: boldstart is an investor).
It’s going to be fun to watch the enterprise collaboration wars and how each company is approaching the market! In my mind it is a microcosm of many battles being played out with startups versus incumbents. Do large enterprises go for “best of breed” providers or the “one throat to choke” model? How does the bottom-up model work versus the traditional top-down enterprise sales model? As for collaboration, here is a view of some of the players:
Slack – bottom up, adding enterprise features, but not on-prem yet, many early adopter enterprises but can they bridge gap to more traditional
Microsoft – Teams, product not as fleshed out but starting with bases of thousands of enterprise clients due to enterprise company licenses, does that mean adoption?
Box/Dropbox – coming at it from a technically commodity base layer of file sharing and storage, trying to add stickiness on top with Paper by Dropbox and Notes from Box
If you’re serious about building a company around open source software, you must walk a narrow path: introduce paid features too soon, and risk curtailing adoption. Introduce paid features too late, and risk encouraging economic free riders. Stray too far in either direction, and your efforts will ultimately continue only as unpaid open source contributions.
I would say same goes for any developer-focused company whether OSS or some other hybrid free/premium model. It is truly an art form when it comes to striking that steady balance between developer and community love versus generating revenue and potentially alienating those who supported you.
This is also an important question as it relates to fundraising for dev-focused startups. Introduce your pricing page too soon and that is the metric that Series A investors will track religiously. Bet the farm on developer love and metrics only and you may never get enough traction to get to that next round.
From what I have seen in our portfolio, goal #1 is always to build an amazing community, focus on developer love and track the metrics and tweak. Without the developers, you have no customers.
When we started boldstart in 2010, a core thesis of ours was to invest in next-gen SaaS which we called SaaS 2.0 at the time and best highlighted in our end of 2015 review:
SaaS 2.0, reinventing for the mobile first workforce will continue to remain robust. We also see older school SaaS companies being rebuilt with more flexible back-end technologies like microservices and reimagined with a more responsive and beautiful UI.
While we continue to be excited about opportunities in SaaS startups, it is clear that the game has changed substantially since 2010. Despite the amazing productivity gains from open source, AWS, microservices and other new technologies, we have seen the time to launch extending and the cost of getting a minimally viable product (MVP) out the door increasing. So why is this the case?
Most SaaS categories have multiple players and to build a transformative SaaS app means the bar to what a “minimally viable product” is much higher than it was 5 years ago. In other words, a MVP of 5–6 core features may now need 8–10 core. This takes more time, money, and resources. Founders need to make tough decisions on what their definition of feature parity is and what that one unique product angle will be to rise above the noise (more to come in a follow up post).
The competition for talent has and continues to be fierce so as tech costs go down, human capital costs continue to increase.
Cost of getting message to market has increased due to the noise from the many competitors in a particular space.
So what can a founder and investor do in this changing world?