I hear again and again from SaaS founders growing to $5m, $10m ARR, or even more, that they don’t need a certain VP — with the exception of a VP of Sales.  Everyone gets they need a great VP of Sales.  But for the other roles?  More and more these days, founders think they can get away with no one in the role, or just a junior person in marketing, in product, in success, in biz dev, etc.

Basically, in SaaS, everyone “gets” that they need a VP of Sales.  Even if they’ve never sold anything before.  They don’t have enough customers, enough velocity, so they get they need someone to help them do better in “sales”.  Now, they often expect a magician, as we’ve discussed here.  But, as founders, at least as we cross $1-$1.5m in ARR, get to Initial Traction, we then realize we have to scale.  Hire not just 1-2 reps, but 10.  To get to $5m-$10m ARR and beyond, we’ll need a real VP of Sales.  That it’s time to bring in someone that knows.

Either way, we come to this conclusion on our own.  I Need a VP of Sales.

But I’ve found many great SaaS founders take longer, too long, to decide to hire the other VPs.

  • Why do I need a VP of Product?  My CTO and dev team are building all the features we need.  Maybe just a product manager is enough.  Fair enough.  But trust me.  That can’t last in the enterprise.  Maybe you can handle the 100 customers and 100 core features you have today.  But at 1,000 customers and 10,000 features?  You just can’t hack it.  You need a true VP of Product to manage it all.   Meet with the customers.  Synthesize it all.  Make you Truly Enterprise.  If you haven’t worked with a great one, you probably won’t get it.  But if you have, you’ll see that magic just happens after Initial Traction.  It seems so hard today just to keep up.  But with a great VP of Product — you’re magically able to somehow serve the needs (often by hook or crook, but somehow) of 100s and 1000s of enterprise customers.

  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Marketing?  I Have Enough Leads.  Sounds Too Expensive for Now.”  Another one I see a lot is, let’s start with a Director of Marketing.  Let’s not go with the Full VP yet.  That would be too expensive.  Can’t I just hire someone to help the sales team?  Manage a trade show?  Of course you can.  It’s not a terrible idea.  But here’s the problem.  95/100, only a VP can really own the whole thing in marketing.  Own a lead or opportunity commit.  Own the number for this year, along with the VP of Sales.  Own getting you from $1.5m to $10m.  If you hire anyone more junior than this, all you get is help at the end of the day.  Help is terrific, and appreciated, of course.  But a great VP of Marketing does so much more.  She gets you to $10m and beyond faster.  And not only more than pays for herself, but carries a huge amount of the load.  With a great VP of Marketing, your business almost automatically grows faster.  With less drama.  And a happier sales team.
  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Business Development? As CEO, I just work with the top partners myself.”  Yes, big companies and partners do love to work with the CEO.  But you never have the time to manage key relationships 40 hours a week, let alone to get to know the 5, 10, 30, 100+ key stakeholders at your top partners.
  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Customer Success?  Why do I need a real VP now?”  Look.  The bottom line is having anyone good in customer success with even a smidge of experience is about 11,000x better than no one.  The whole key to Second Order Revenue is having the talented, committed bodies in place to work with the customers.  But without a VP … it’s just reactive.  A VP of Customer Success can do just so much more.  A VP of Customer Success can carry a number.  I.e., own growing revenue from the installed base 10% or 20% Year-over-Year.  A true VP of Success can also aggressively attack churn.  And importantly — Almost Churn (more on that here).  And a VP of Customer Success can put real processes in place.  This is just so hard to do without a true VP.  Individual contributors just can’t implement systems and accountability the same way.  And a real VP of Customer Success will be a true partner with your VP of Sales.  Not just a support function.  And perhaps most importantly, a true VP of Customer Success will recruit an amazing team under her.
  • “Why Do I Need a VP of Engineering?  My CTO is amazing.”  I am sure she is.  But after even $4m-$5m ARR, why is your brilliant, creative CTO doing things that someone else could?  You want your CTO focused on doing amazing things no one else can, like figuring out that tough feature, that new product, that new way to do something.  And hire a VP of Eng to do stuff that has already been done before.  Like scaling, security, database, search, devops, etc.  Even a lot of hiring should be done by a VP of Eng, code review, and more.  Those have all been figured out before, they aren’t novel. Get a VP of Eng to own the stuff that’s been done before, so your CTO can still run.  Instead of being stuck managing folks doing the “been there, done that” stuff.  A mediocre VP of Eng just slows everything down and creates friction.  You don’t need that.  But an amazing one is a partner to your CTO.  That lets her continue to build what it takes to build a unicorn.  While the VP of Eng make sure that unicorn can scale, and doesn’t break.

Here’s my uber-point:

As soon as you hit Initial Traction ($1.5m in ARR), as soon as it goes from Repeatable to Repeating … you are ready for a VP of Everything.  Of Engineering.  Of Product.  Of Marketing.  Of Customer Success.  Of Engineering.  Of People.  Etc.  And of course, a VP of Sales.

All of them.  A real VP, that will own the area, and make it substantially more productive.

And as long as they are great, they’ll all be accretive.  More on that here.  But they truly have to be great.

Even having said that, I get cash may be a limiter.  Other factors may as well.

But it’s not that you’re not ready.  Or more importantly, that you don’t need a true VP yet.

You do.  As soon as you hit Initial Traction.

>> And if you don’t think you need any of the VPs — it’s only because you’ve never worked with a great one.

Once you have … you’ll know.

(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)

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