Founder Stories 04 Aug 2021

Traits of running a calm Saas company

Running any kind of business comes with its ups and downs. Times when you feel you are on a roll: you get all positive feedback, your marketing efforts are paying off, you see increasingly more sign ups and so on. But then, often out of nowhere, you get doubts: is this actually going anywhere? Shouldn't it be growing faster? Why didn't I hear back from them? What happens if I get hit by a bus? 🙀

Photo by Jeroen Bendeler on Unsplash

Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster for sure. But there are things you can do to ease the downsides a bit. To create a company that is fun to work at. Now and in the future.

Have a software company

The biggest upside is you have a software company—a SaaS. This on its own is such a big upside, it’s worth mentioning separately. A SaaS allows you to work from wherever you want, when you want. That’s big, because no matter how much you enjoy the work you do, it gives you more freedom to do the other things in life that make life worth it for you (more on that below).

Ideally you have a SaaS with many smaller customers, eg. $99 - $499. As more revenue per month per customer, can make you feel nervous about loosing one customer (as that could mean a big chunk of your MRR). If you got 1000 customers at $999, well, godspeed to you (and let’s meet sometime 🙂).

Be remote and async

As you run a software company, with likely customers all over the world, there’s almost zero reason not to be remote. Why would you force people to move places, have them commute and force them in an office for 8 hours. With a bit of bad luck that means a team member needs 10 hours of their day, where they might get lucky to get 5 hours of real work done.

And if you are remote—thus giving back those 2 - 5 hours to your team member—it won’t do you or them any good if they get distracted all the time by just one quick message. Async work does help here. It sets up your team to be able to get some real solid hours of work done. Hours where they know they did real work. This sounds simple, but knowing that you actually accomplished something is a powerful motivator long term.

“Async only is a set up for disaster if it comes to team bonding.”

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a time and place for banter or simple fun. Async only is a setup for disaster if it comes to team bonding. Instead make it async first. Have regular video calls to go over work, but set time aside to have a casual chat too.

Have some fun

Have fun building your company. At some easter eggs somewhere, share memes and add some tongue-in-cheek in your marketing copy.

At Seos I add fun things in many spots: a little animation here and a hidden feature there. I have fun working on it, and if someone discovers it, it might put a smile of their face and a happy memory with your product. Wins all-around.

If all you aim for is maximum productivity you will burn yourself quickly. Any professional athlete will tell you they can’t sprint 100 meters multiple times a day, 5 days a week without some goofing around.

No (micro) management

Early on you were a jack-of-all-trades. But have since hired specialists in their field. If you hired right, you should be able to have them work autonomously. You should only inspire them to do their best work, come up with the solution that is right for the cicumstances and so on. You lead to keep your “north-star” in sight, not check if and how they did their work.

This allows them and you to focus on what you both do best. And thus thrive.

Release features at a steady pace

There’s no joy to your customers or you, constanly releasing new features that break at some point. And new features will break. Writing good software is inherently hard.

You are better off setting up a system that help you mitigate some of these issues. At Seos we add every new feature behind a feature flag. By default these features are available to team members, and customers who, voluntarily, opted-in to have access to these features. So if something breaks, and again: things will break, it will only affect a small portion of your customers, who more easily are acceptable of any errors that might crop up.

This doesn’t mean you can release half-assed features though. You should take the time to properly add automated tests. I also find it helps to break bigger features into smaller chunks that can be developed more quickly and then once released, iterate upon them to improve and add more functionality.

Aim for slow and steady growth

Slow and steady growth might sound like a contradiction when growing a business. But for calm, customer-funded SaaS companies it’s key for longevity. Not just for your company, but your health too.

For Seos I decided to keep the flow of requesting access in place for a little longer. As it allowed me to “vet” any customer that came in the door; maybe set up a quick call or have an email conversation. As I decided when someone can enter the app, I was sure the servers were never on fire because of a sudden influx of customers. It’s really freeing for my mental health to slowly have a few customers come in every week. Note: two weeks ago, after months in early access with paying customers, I “opened the doors” for everyone.

Be good to your customers

“Do good by your customers” doesn’t mean you have to send them gifts every month. But at the very least your product should do what it says on the tin. Don’t use blackhat UX or use physological tricks to lure them back into your app.

I’ve written a blog on this subject before.

Enjoy other things in life

When you run a business, it might be hard to truly take time off. Your thoughts constantly revolve around it: what if we add this feature? Maybe we should set up another email marketing campaign? Is that team member still happy with their work?

Steer away from the idea that you are your business. You are more than your job or your company. It’s a great feat growing any company, but there is still more to life. Whatever that is, is up to you.

“Steer away from the idea that you are your business. You are more than your job or your company.”

Real time away from your business helps you with your mental health, make you more relaxed and helps you put things in perspective when you face rough times.

With the tips from this blog, it should be easier to do this.

These are my takeaways of running different SaaS products for many years. They’ve helped me start up new companies, sell them and help me sleep well when I faced tough times.

—Eelco, founder Seos

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