May 17, 2022

Wisdom for growth stage VC funded SaaS startups

As a founder, you know that access to capital is mission-critical. So how can you access the cash you need while holding on to your equity? Check out these practical tips.

One of the most valuable resources for founders is mentorship — the opportunity to learn from highly successful people who understand what you’re going through. These days, the VC backed startup ecosystem is expanding rapidly outside of traditional hubs like Silicon Valley and New York. There’s a powerful opportunity for knowledge-sharing among founders of all walks of life. 

Especially among hyper-growth SaaS businesses, access to wisdom is a lifeline. Here’s a roundup of growth wisdom from legendary SaaS founders who’ve been where you are.

1. Embrace your emotions but also learn to keep a healthy distance from them.

 “I think getting caught up in your own emotion is where the danger lies, and if you can observe the emotion happening—to keep some distance from it and go about your day realizing that it’s going to come again tomorrow—you’re in a better spot. If you think you’re going bankrupt, wait thirty minutes to see if you still feel that way. You’ll probably feel differently.”

– Steve Woods, former co-founder CTO at Eloqua and CTO at Benevity

Why we should listen to him

He’s built one of the most important sales relationship technology companies of all time and has more than $1B in existence. You can read more about his experiences at Startups.co.

2. Prioritize storytelling and public-facing communications on behalf of your founding team.

“I think one of the things we did really well early on was our storytelling. As a founder, whoever it is that you are competing with, you must have a personality. Storytelling can be a huge asset, so take what you have done and turn it into stories because they can help amplify and make you seem bigger than you are.”

– Michelle Zatlyn, co-founder and COO at Cloudflare

Why we should listen to her

Michelle led the growth and evolution of one of the most successful cybersecurity companies of all time. Not only does this company create revolutionary products, but they also are known to attract extraordinary talent. You can read more about her leadership and Cloudflare’s growth journey in Startup Canada.

 

3. Expect to fall down, and learn to appreciate the journey of picking yourself back up.

“I am a very proud African entrepreneur. There are not enough of us out there and I pray more people take the leap of faith and start a company and do something great for the continent. My advice is to be prepared to fall and get back up multiple times. No one finishes the race if they don’t get back up. With any business in Africa you just have to keep your eyes on the prize. Follow all the rules and ensure you have a great team of trusted people around you. For investors I say Africa is your best return on investment in the world. Nothing can get you a better return but be patient with us. We are writing our future as we go and do not have history to dictate our future.”

- Chris Folayan, former CEO and founder at Link Commerce

Why we should listen to him

He architected, built, and scaled a cross-continental supply chain network across 57 countries in Africa and the Middle East. You can read more about his journey at Business Africa Online.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“I asked for help very early with CapWay. I used to be prideful. I thought ‘I’m from Mississippi, nobody is gonna help me, there’s no infrastructure here, I’m gonna have to figure it out myself.’  And that’s how I built my first company. It taught me a lot, don’t get me wrong, but it taught me with Capway to ask for help early on!”

- Sheena Allen, founder and CEO at CapWay

Why we should listen to her

She is tackling one of the biggest challenges to exist in modern finance today — the predatory economy. She’s building infrastructure to guide people to a prosperous financial future. Read more about Sheena in People of Color in Tech or watch her TEDx talk, How to bring humanity back to finances.

Maintain independence and raise money your way

Get financed

5. Get committed to getting out of your own way.

“If someone on the team had to write a 1300 word memo about my drive-by management style, I was the problem. Not them.

I was holding the company back. That’s what it took for me to change. Months and months of frustrated team members, countless wasted hours working on things that didn’t matter, competitors getting ahead and customers leaving us for them as a result.”

– Hiten Shah, co-founder at Nira

Why we should listen to him

He’s built and scaled numerous successful SaaS companies with and without VC.  Along his journey, he’s been committed to sharing education and knowledge — especially tough topics that few are able and willing to talk about. You can read more about his journey building KISSmetrics, which ended up shutting down, on his personal blog.

6. Prioritization is key to business stability.

“Ruthlessly prioritize. When we were just getting started in 2009, one of our early angel investors, Thomas Layton, told me, ‘The hardest part of starting a company isn’t deciding what to do—it’s deciding what not to do.’ I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time, but it has turned out to be incredibly sage advice.”

– Clara Shin, founder and former CEO (and now board member) with Hearsay Systems

Why we should listen to her

Her CEO and board experience are unparalleled. Clara understands what it takes to bring many moving parts of a company together into a cohesive engine. She leads with a healthy balance of discipline and empathy, which translates into business stability — even during hard times. You can learn more about her perspectives in this interview with Sequoia Capital.

7. Measure business stability through capital efficiency.

“In a tough fundraising environment, it won’t just be growth but the efficiency of growth that are seen as the key indicators of startup performance. Tracking the Burn Multiple is an easy way for founders to make sure that burn isn’t getting ahead of traction.”

– David Sacks, founding COO at PayPal and founder/CEO of Yammer

Why we should listen to him

There’s more to being a startup founder than the emotional journey. Solid analytical thinking is crucial for companies looking to scale and do great things in the world. David maintains a blog where he shares his thinking processes for aspiring founders to learn and follow in his footsteps. You can read more about David’s approach to capital efficiency metrics by subscribing to his writing on Substack.

8. Don’t procrastinate becoming capital efficient.

“There’s nothing wrong with overcapitalizing early to hit your milestones. But the longer you go into the capital structure — raising money before you make money — the more likely you are to find yourself having to reckon with brewing tensions between the early money and the investment that came after it. These groups of investors come to your business with vastly different timeframes in mind, and the clash of those goals is seldom pretty.”

– Yancey Spruill, CEO at DigitalOcean

Why we should listen to him

As a former investment banker turned CFO to SendGrid and board member to influential startups, Yancey knows what it takes for startups to scale sustainably. There’s a balancing act between encouraging creativity and managing the potential for chaos. You can learn more from him in his recent interview with SaaStr.

Final Thoughts

There’s never been a better time to build and grow a startup due to the sheer volume of knowledge, education, and wisdom that exists. Wisdom is everywhere, so keep your eyes and ears open. You’re never too late in your journey to start learning from the advice of smart people.

Disclosure

This material has been prepared for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment, accounting, legal, or tax advice.