Weekly Meeting Rhythm

We recently updated our weekly meeting rhythm by moving our weekly leadership tacticals from Fridays at 2pm to Mondays at 10:15am. After doing Friday afternoon tacticals for several years, we decided that Monday morning made more sense in conjunction with our KPI dashboards. Now, we start the week with our daily check-ins and then go right into our leadership tactical.

Here are the weekly repeating events on my calendar:

  • Daily – Check-ins
  • Monday – Leadership tactical
  • Tuesday – Sales workshop
  • Wednesday – Manager workshop

Everything else I do is scheduled on an ad-hoc basis.

Entrepreneur Lunches

One of the best pieces of advice I like to pass on to other entrepreneurs is to reach out and schedule at least one lunch per week, preferably more, with other entrepreneurs you would like to get to know better (or meet for the first time). Looking at my calendar for this week, I have two such meals already in place. My mind is already thinking of questions to ask, similarities or differences in our businesses, and any advice or referrals I might be able to earn.

Entrepreneurs love talking to other entrepreneurs.

Groups like the Entrepreneurs’ Organization are so successful because they provide a platform for entrepreneurs to interact and participate in peer-to-peer forums. The new ATDC is working on similar initiatives to foster community and enhance the likelihood of success for Georgia-based technology companies. This Wednesday, I’m attending the first, very informal Atlanta Startup Entrepreneurs (ATLSE.com) meetup lunch for entrepreneurs that want to help mentor or be mentored. Please join us if you can.

My advice for entrepreneurs: visit with other like-minded individuals in your community, and you’ll quickly appreciate the value of experience sharing.

Churn with SaaS Products

One of the most important, and least talked about, challenges for SaaS products is churn, or customers leaving. There’s so much focus on selling new accounts, and providing a compelling product, that companies often don’t spend enough time addressing ways to increase their client retention rate. While we’re always striving to get better at what we do, here are some of the strategies we’ve found that work well:

  • Use dedicated client advocates to proactively call on customers and help answer questions as well as learn about issues before they are reported (some clients don’t bother reporting anything and let the disgruntlement build up)
  • Schedule weekly webinars for free customer training and vary the topics so that it also acts as continuing education
  • Track which modules are being used by the customer and offer up ways for them to get more value from the system
  • Monitor customer logins and reach out to clients that haven’t logged into the system within a certain amount of time as it is usually a leading indicator they are considering leaving

I hope these suggestions help. Customer churn is a critical issue for SaaS products, yet doesn’t get as much focus as it desires. Please reach out and share any suggestions you have for reducing customer churn.

Defensible Market Positions and SaaS

One of the topics we debated today was building defensible market positions with software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. SaaS companies typically don’t have many of the traditional barriers to entry like high development costs, high infrastructure costs, and slow time to market. As we proved earlier this summer, many companies can be launched in 90 days for $20,000 or less.

Certain SaaS companies like salesforce.com (proper spelling is with a lower case ‘s’) have built defensible market positions due to their proprietary AppExchange marketplace of hundreds of platform plug-ins. Salesforce.com, being one of the earliest and most vocal SaaS companies, required over $100 million in financing to establish their beachhead position and market dominance. They were the first SaaS company to go from $0 to $1 billion in recurring revenue.

How does a SaaS company answer the defensible market position question? I think the answer lies in explaining that this new generation of products isn’t about defensible positions but rather about first mover advantage and grabbing market share. The barriers to entry are so low that the most important task is to sign up as many customers as possible, while offering such a compelling solution that they won’t want to switch or their switching costs will be too high to warrant making a change. SaaS is about economies of scale with a multi-tenant architecture whereby more engineering time is spent on innovation and less on solving one-off customer issues.

The number of software companies that are going to succeed due to patents and significant networks effects is significantly smaller than in the past.  Today, it is all about innovating quickly and taking market share.

More Thoughts on KPI Dashboards

We made another round of tweaks to our Google Spreadsheet KPI dashboard today, and I wanted to share them here. As you might remember, I’ve talked about using Google Spreadsheets for KPI dashboards two times before on this blog. My excitement for them hasn’t waned at all. Here are the next set of changes that we made:

  • Added a new column where the rows represent the running average of each of the KPIs so we can see how our average compares to our goal
  • Updated the cell conditional color coding so that values that are empty show up with a light gray background, but only if a value of zero isn’t allowed (e.g. one KPI is the average number of billable hours per person for our services team, which will never be zero)
  • Took the average value from the first few weeks and made that our goal for this quarter, as our main task right now is establishing a baseline for the different KPIs

I encourage all entrepreneurs to start tracking different metrics in their business and capture them weekly in a color-coded spreadsheet.

Tradeshow Exhibitors and Marketplace Positioning

Yesterday I was talking with a successful Atlanta entrepreneur and he was asking about the competition for one of our products. I explained that it was a large market and that there were tons of companies out there doing similar things — it’s very noisy. We got into product positioning, focusing on what mind share we were working on capturing with our respective marketing and messaging.

Shortly into the conversation, he made a simple recommendation: take the most relevant tradeshow in our industry and decide what we should do with each and every exhibitor there. What he meant by that was to decide if an exhibitor was a potential partner or competitor, and for the competitors, work on strategically placing where they fit into the market, as well as how we differentiate ourselves.

Personally, I’m not one for paying too much attention to competitor products because I think it is more important to spend time with customers and prospects. With that said, analyzing a competitor’s position in the market is readily accomplished by looking at their website, social media, and analyst reviews. Superior positioning will frequently make up for inferior products.

So, for all entrepreneurs and product managers, I encourage you to look at all the exhibitors of your most targeted tradeshow, and decide if they are possible friend or foe. Once complete, analyze your competitors positioning in the market, and use that to better your own positioning. Good luck!

EO Forum Meeting Format

Tonight we had our quarterly EO moderator dinner to talk about up coming events, what’s working well and not working well, and any other initiatives. EO is one of the best organizations I’ve ever been involved with when it comes to passionate members, formalized training, and useful structure. If you’ve read Keith Ferrazzi’s latest book, Who’s Got Your Back, you’ll know right away what an EO forum is like. I wanted to share the format of our monthly EO forum:

  • 3:00 – Welcome, confidentiality reminder
  • 3:10 – Monthly updates (seven minutes per person)
  • 4:10 – Lightening round where each person asks one question and everyone else answers in 30 seconds or less
  • 4:40 – Break
  • 4:50 – Presentation on an issue someone is working through
  • 5:40 – Break
  • 5:50 – Presentation on an issue someone is working through
  • 6:40 – Housekeeping and wrap-up
    – Best idea lottery
    – Chapter events update
    – Needs and leads
    – Review upcoming schedule
    – Process review of what did and didn’t work
  • 6:59 – Close

Obviously, that list leaves out a good bit of detail, but the goal is to get an idea of how a peer-to-peer support forum operates. I hope this helps!