Recently the Support Driven podcast interviewed SaaStr VP of Sales Bryan Elsesser on how SaaStr itself got through the pandemic. We are probably at the point where we’ve heard enough of “how we got through the pandemic stories” 🙂 but Bryan did a great job talking about where events, field marketing, and more are going as we come out of this.
The podcast is below as well as several of the insights:
I’m super curious to hear what’s going on with SaaStr, just how you’ve handled the pandemic and how that shifted things for you?
Yeah, it’s a good question.
What’s been crazy, in  years of doing this, we’ve been known for our flagship SaaStr annual event, which took place every year in the San Francisco Bay every year area 15,000 people showing up like the biggest and best of big thought leaders. COVID was hard. During COVID we lost the majority of our business overnight. Scary times. The company had to really take some measures to understand; what do we do now? How do we shift?
A few things happened for SaaStr first, is the COVID actually allowed us to take pause and take a look at our community.
And it allowed us to really carve in and see, wow, we have these niches that seemed to predominantly engage with us, that there are these opportunities for different subset communities and that we could cater to them in a really unique way. Additionally, it gave us the opportunity to. Think about our content standard and how we continue to produce that really high content bar while at the same time produce an event that people are going to value and piecing those two together.
So what we did is over the past year, we did five digital events that were really curated. And built for specific genres and they were so successful. It actually increased our reach. We hit over 500,000 people engage with our events over the past year, which is crazy.
And so now we’re thinking about the future here and I think we’re going to be back in person in September, which you know, knock on wood.
So I want to touch on that but also I want to talk about digital events. What makes them different from a zoom meeting?
I think when we first started COVID there was a webinar every day. So at first they were nice. Cause it was like, Ooh, we can still do business. And we all wanted to hold on to that, but then it became annoying. So viewership dropped. So we didn’t want to be another webinar. We wanted the SaaStr conference to maintain the integrity it’s had for over a decade. And what we did is we said, well, we first experimented with the idea of digital booths. How did that go? No, it didn’t go right?It doesn’t work.
So we’re like, all right people don’t want that. What do they want? They want to be able to speak. They want to be able to speak about their topic and about leadership.
Well, first off the biggest thing that came out of the COVID when it comes to branding and brands, trying to figure out what to do is they started thinking about thought leadership as the way in which they engage their community and the community they engage with their brand. That was cool. I actually love that. I think it was a really smart movement. But SaaStr took it a step further. And we’ve always had an enormous network of insanely talented VCs and C-suite members. And so we were like what if they were the thought leaders?
What if they were driving the conversations? And that’s what we did and that, so we’re not just another zoom call. Our conferences are thought leadership pieces from the unicorns, from the people that are doing this every day that are growing their business to a hundred million dollars and beyond and recurring revenue. And we become that thought leadership piece, that baseline for success, which we’ve been trying to be in and have had some, you know, very, as long as we’ve been around.
And so you’ve mentioned that you’re thinking to be in person in September?
Yeah. So every day I wake up I go outside. I started doing jumping jacks and calisthenics and to try to serve whatever spiritual energies in my yard to maybe make it happen that in-person events will happen. Put in a rain dance there.
I don’t know if it’ll work, but spitting over my shoulder every five seconds. It’s we, yeah we are going to be in person in September in some way, shape or form. We’re going to make every effort to do it. But the idea is that we’re going to do it safely and we will couple it.
So we’re thinking at least on having some sort of digital offering as well for the brands that need that. But we’ve gotten a lot of response from brands that they want to be in person. This is where they wanna be.
Right. So will it be a hybrid event or would the digital things be completely separate?
I think we did a hybrid event, we would probably dilute our audience. So it would be, if you’re trying to have people that are in person, try something digital what does that even mean? How does that work? No one’s ever done it yet.
And this is all hypothetical, still, like nothing’s been solidified. But if I could imagine what this could look like if we had some sort of digital component or day for the people that can’t be in person. And then what if we then just drove the regular day? Of in-person, right. And maybe simulcasting some of the big talks into our network. So we’re trying to just play with the format, nothing’s there yet. All we know is that where you want to get back in person. Cause that’s where everyone wants to be.
Yeah, that’s the thing that I’ve seen, there is still a lot of demand for in-person. People are just waiting. It almost feels like people are waiting for other people to do it first. They want to do it, but they don’t necessarily want to be the first ones to do it. And so I know that in person will come back, right. It’s just a matter of when and that’s the thing, it feels as a conference organizer, it feels really a bit of making a bet, right? Where things will be in September and just where the country is going to be and if SaaStr draws an international audience, which I’m pretty sure it does.
The reality is that’s where the digital audience will probably make somewhat sense of having something digital. Europe is still in a very strict lockdown for the most part. And whereas we see in the States, some areas opening and our European friends aren’t as lucky yet.
But we serve everyone. We’ll figure it out in a way that contributes to that audience.
Yeah. Cause like I said, a lot of us want to go, but few of us want to be first.
I think honestly, there’s a way to do something safe and safety matters. And, but at the same time, like community matters, right. And protect your community, protect the safety. If you can check those boxes, it should work out. And I think that to anyone listening, thinking about, should I go to an in-person event?
Look, there’s word on the street that New York is going to open up their vaccines and another three or four weeks to everyone. Well, wow. That’s what opens up a lot of opportunities.
So to think of September, October, what the world is going to look like, I’m very confident and I’m optimistic. And so I think that we have a great opportunity ahead of us to see the change and come back to reality and maybe share a cocktail with a colleague.
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