Everyone’s gone into War Mode of some sort. If you are one of the SaaS companies that is “benefitting” from the current crazy environment, you’re overloaded. If you are one of the SaaS companies that is in one of the hardest-hit categories (travel, events, housing, etc.) you’ve already been through gut-wrenching change. Many of you are in the middle right now — deals slowing down, churn or pre-churn creeping up, etc.
Wherever you are in SaaS, you’ve probably adapted. Founders are really good at this. It’s so hard to start something, you almost fail so many times, that somehow you can deal with almost anything. Even a Black Swan event. Even, somehow, a global pandemic.
I don’t have any profound insights, but perhaps one way I can help a little bit is that little old team SaaStr started going into War Mode earlier. So we might just be going through now what you’ll be going through in mid-to-late May.
We began to track Covid-19 issues very early, and in January, after much angst about if it was the right thing to do, quietly banned all SaaStr Annual attendees from China. And then on January 28, we went into War Mode when the latest CDC memo went out. There were only a handful of cases in the U.S., and the CDC said “the threat is low.” But it looked like a lot of change might be coming:
With SaaStr Annual coming up, we knew we had to be well ahead of any issues, whatever they might be.
There’s a lot more to that story which is interesting, but let’s put that aside for right now. My only real point is what it’s been like to be in “War Mode” since January 28. That day, I started waking up every night at 3am to do twitter searches to learn more, never going back to bed. 70 days of 3am+ learning sessions. Of wanting to take action. And deep down, I’m sure, anxiety. War Mode.
Most of you are in many cases doing OK, or just starting to have some fatigue now. You’ve set up daily Zoom happy hours, rallied the team, focused everyone, reset the plan, and to the extent you can, as founders, reset into a “new normal” for your teams. And that’s leadership. I’ve seen incredible leadership across almost every CEO I work with closely.
Personally, though, I can tell you in some ways it’s harder on Day 70, and you are probably somewhere around Day 20 of your “War Mode” journey. It’s probably going to get harder to lead through all this change in another 30-45 days.
A few learnings of where you may be around May 15-30 or so, since we started early in War Mode:
- A New Wave of Fatigue Sets In. Maybe not for the whole team, but for me. 70 days of not sleeping every night, and doing twitter searches for information at 3am … the endorphins keep you going for a long time. But now, a new wave of fatigue does seem to be setting in, at least for me, 70 days in. You’ll still have boundless energy. But the weight of so much change is tough for even the best of us to continue to process without getting frazzled.
- So Much Change Can Make It Hard For The Team to Keep Up. The rate of change these days is so fast. As a leader, you have to stick to one strategy, and be careful not to change tactics too often. Ideally, maybe only once or twice a year would you change even your core tactics. But now, we’re often changing our tactics weekly, and discussing them daily. Even with the best of communication, it can be really hard on everyone 70 Days In to keep changing tactics. Sorry, what’s our messaging again? How are we dealing with customers that want to cancel? What’s our new roadmap again? It’s tough to continue to keep up with too much change around Day 70.
- Leadership Rapidly Evolves and Changes. You’ll see in War Mode who is a natural leader in war time. Others, may not want to be leaders anymore in these times. You have to be flexible and let folks’ roles evolve here. Some folks may need to go back to an IC role from a manager. Others may step in ways you weren’t even anticipating. Your management team will likely change and evolve rapidly by mid-to-late May.
I wish I had 20 great actionable suggestions here. My main learning from being in War Mode about 30-45 days longer than most of you is to prepare for another wave of team-level change to process. You’ve almost certainly already adapted surprisingly well to shelter-at-home and the immediate impacts on your customers.
You’re probably going to have to do it all over again in about 30 days:
- Be Strong — But Cut Yourself Some Slack in May if you find you’re a bit more overloaded as CEO than you’d expected once you went into War Mode.
- Expect Your Management Team to Significantly Evolve and Change. Support that, don’t fight it.
- Change the Plan Less Often If You Can. Pick a Q2/Next 90 Days plan that is simple, that you might be able to stick to now. And even if the sub-details have to quietly change 8 more times until June 30, try to insulate the team from all the change. Changing plans every week, and even every day, when you go into War Mode is OK. Folks get it. But after that, fatigue is going to set in if you don’t keep to a basic set of goals for the team that don’t change every week.
You can do it.
And join us at the free SaaStr Summit: Bridging the Gap on April 22, where we’ll talk more about how.