Build a Competing Company, Internally

Forbes has an excellent article titled Starting Over: How FreshBooks Reinvented Its Online Accounting Service On The Fly. FreshBooks is a popular online accounting app (think major competitor to QuickBooks and Xero, but more focused on micro and small businesses) that’s been around for over 15 years. After 10+ years with the original application, it was clear that the product architecture and user experience wasn’t going to scale for the next 10 years.

We all know that the a full product rewrite is the kiss of death. What to do?

FreshBooks created a separate company, with a separate team, in a separate office, to build a new competitor called BillSpring. BillSpring’s goal was to build a real business with it’s own customer base, that if successful, would replace the original FreshBooks product. After two years, BillSpring was working well and customers loved it. FreshBooks made the BillSpring product the new FreshBooks product while maintaining the legacy product and not forcing customers to switch. Now, FreshBooks has a platform for the future.

Need to reinvent your company? Consider building a competing company, internally.

What else? What are some more thoughts on building a competing company to reinvent the business?

Recessions and Expensive Software Incumbents

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to sit down with the executive that opened the Atlanta office a number of years ago. After hearing that the Atlanta office was one of the most successful ones, I wanted to know the secret. What was the special sauce? Easy, he said.

The recession hit many years ago and all these mid-to-large companies in the Southeast were running Siebel Systems with annual license costs that were millions of dollars per year. Combine license costs with staff plus infrastructure and you get a serious line item in the budget. Now for the pitch: cut your overall Siebel costs by 90% and move everything to the cloud. CFOs especially liked this message and took off.

It’s been a number of years since the last recession and SaaS has grown tremendously. When the next recession hits, look for a new wave of SaaS products to run the same playbook and replace the expensive incumbents with a system that’s more modern, and much cheaper.

What else? What are some more thoughts on recessions and expensive software incumbents?

Top 10 Blog Posts

Periodically, I like to review the top 10 most post popular blog posts over the last 12 months. I’m interested in what’s resonating and what’s popular from social media shares and search traffic.

Here are the top 10 most popular blog posts:

  1. The 9 Building Blocks of a Business Model
  2. SaaS Cost of Goods Sold for Startups
  3. Costs to Furnish a Nice Startup Office
  4. Simplified One Page Strategic Plan from Rockefeller Habits
  5. How Much is Enough: A Story from Jimmy John’s
  6. Example Simplified One Page Strategic Plan
  7. Gross Margin and SaaS
  8. Hockey Stick Growth for Startups
  9. Quantifying the SaaS Valuation Growth Rate Multiplier
  10. SaaS Magic Number

Have a topic you’d like to see on this blog? Please let me know in the comments.

Excellent Conversations Don’t Equal Product/Market Fit

Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur that was excited about a number of excellent conversations he was having with prospects. Potential customers were sharing details around their problems and expressing real pain. Then, the entrepreneur volunteered that he thought he was close to product/market fit.

Excellent conversations don’t equal product/market fit.

Product/market fit comes from real users getting real value from the product. Product/market fit takes many iterations and a significant amount of time. When assessing product/market fit, consider several usage and metric dimensions knowing that it changes from customer to customer.

Conversations aren’t product/market fit. Rather, it’s all about customers getting value.

What else? What are some more thoughts on the idea that conversations don’t equal product/market fit?

Comparative Advantage, Or Why Entrepreneurs Should Hire an Office Manager

One of my favorite classes in college was an introductory economics course taught by David Johnson. During a section, we got into comparative advantage, which is the idea that even though you might be able to do something yourself, your time is best spent doing what you’re uniquely qualified to do. From Investopedia:

Comparative advantage is an economic law referring to the ability of any given economic actor to produce goods and services at a lower opportunity cost than other economic actors.

Here, the key is opportunity cost, defined as the highest valued opportunity foregone. Meaning, doing a low-value thing takes away time from doing a high-value thing. For entrepreneurs, this is spending time writing code, selling product, leading the company, etc. and not tasks that are readily handed off to another team member.

Entrepreneurs should recognize comparative advantage and hire an office manager after their first round of funding. An office manager is the perfect way to delegate tasks so as to focus time and energy on the most important tasks. Start with a key hire, start with an office manager.

What else? What are some more thoughts on comparative advantage and hiring an office manager?



$136,000 Median SaaS Revenue Per Employee

Once the startup begins scaling, leaders from each team start asking for more resources (e.g. we just signed 10 more customers, let’s hire another person to do ‘X’). Only, outside the budget, it’s difficult to assess the overall efficiency. One of the best metrics to track efficiency is revenue per employee.

According to the 2016 Pacific Crest SaaS Company Survey Benchmarks, the median SaaS revenue per employee is $136,000:

Over time, the revenue per employee changes as the startup scales from pre-revenue through to seed stage and beyond. Each milestone often has a higher revenue per employee with ones at the expansion stage typically having $200,000 or more in revenue per employee.

Entrepreneurs would do well to track their own revenue per employee and benchmark it against other startups of similar size and scale.

What else? What are some more thoughts on using revenue per employee to evaluate the efficiency of the startup?

Accountability in a Startup

As the startup grows from a small group of co-founders to the first early employees and beyond, organizational accountability needs to scale as well. Co-founders, talking so frequently and being self-starters, often mind-meld on a daily basis and don’t need as much structure. Only, that doesn’t scale.

Here are a few ideas for accountability in a startup:

Accountability in a startup takes work. Make it a system with the right rhythm, data, and priorities.

What else? What are some more thoughts on accountability in a startup?