If you’re a SaaS founder, the thought of becoming a unicorn has likely crossed your mind. But what does it take to achieve that jaw-dropping $1Billion valuation?
Casey Renner, Operating Partner at OpenView, hosts a star-studded panel featuring CEOS from three unicorns: Calendly, Algolia, and Contentful. The CEOs share tips, strategies, and inspiration for any SaaS leader hoping to achieve rapid and sustainable company growth.
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Quick Facts About the Panel
- Tope Awotona founded Calendly in 2013 with the mission of simplifying scheduling for everyone. Now he’s grown that business to 10 million monthly users $60M in ARR.
Valuation: $3 Billion
- Bernadette Nixon joined Algolia in 2020 as CEO after years of executive experience in SaaS. Under her watch, Algolia raised $150M in Series D fundraising in 2021.
Valuation: $2.25 Billion
- Steve Sloan, CEO of Contentful, brings his impressive product leadership skills to the “headless CMS” platform used by more than 30% of Fortune500 companies.
Valuation: $3 Billion
The Qualities of a Unicorn
Only 0.006% of companies will make it as a unicorn. So what does it take to achieve that incredible milestone? What qualities does a unicorn company have that contribute to success?
Tope says that the top indicator for a successful company is customer-centric problem-solving. “The [trait] that matters most is solving a meaningful problem at scale, for many different people.”
Bernadette believes in the power of changing the status quo: “If you’re going to be a unicorn, you need aggressive growth, so disrupting the marketplace is an important part. [Make] your customers think about their problem in a different way.”
And Steve emphasizes the size of your TAM (Total Addressable Market) and how that differentiates you in the eyes of investors. “At some point, we have to assess whether the opportunity we’re going after, is in fact, big enough.”
However, all three panelists recommend that early-stage SaaS founders don’t worry too much about achieving unicorn status initially. Instead, they suggest focusing on establishing a solid hiring plan, creating a product that customers love, and staying hyper-aware of metrics like ARR/MRR and NDR.
Helpful Hint from Bernadette: Best-in-class NDR falls over 130%, so keep track of your performance through that indicator.
Unicorn Growth: Can You Get There On a Single Product?
According to these unicorn leaders, it is possible to achieve unicorn status with a single product. However, it takes lots of time, skill, and luck. Most companies will discover additional revenue-growth opportunities and expand upon those by introducing add-on products or secondary product lines. Steve touches on the importance of product-channel fit when you’re determining your growth strategy: “We obsess about product-market fit with our first product so much. But we’ve seen so many good products die on the vine because they didn’t have a good product-channel fit.”
Tope gives an example of how Calendly grew with one product, but they had to expand their idea of who they could serve with that one product. “When we launched, we initially had a product-market fit for individuals, and the scheduling worked really well. But, as it turns out, as we’re solving scheduling for individuals who work in teams…So we evolved from solving scheduling for individuals to solving for individuals and teams. When we did both of those things, our ability to retain customers doubled.”
Final Takeaways From the Masters
- Bernadette’s Takeaway: Have a strong hiring plan that addresses each point in a company’s growth phases.
“As you go through different stages, you want people who have been on the journey with you from day one as you go forward and grow business…You also have to blend that with people who have stage-specific experience.”
- Steve’s Takeaway: Think about your company’s growth in stages and build strategy accordingly.
“Get advice from people who know a lot about the stage you’re in the middle of, or the stage you’re trying to bridge to. The advice is radically different, the investors are different, the questions are different, stage-by-stage.”
- Tope’s Takeaway: Stay customer-obsessed and never lose your close relationship with them.
“As your business grows, your responsibilities grow along with it. You have obligations to your customers, to your partners, to your employees, and it just increases. It’s very easy to lose that closeness with the customers that got you there in the first place. Don’t ever lose that.”