In SaaS, You Have to Love the One You’re With
Recurring revenue businesses are hard. You need so many different types of people (sales, support, client success, demand gen, product, engagement, dev). The customers complain, especially your most loyal ones. You have to get on planes. You have to grovel. It’s tough.
And for a lot of us … well … it just turns out differently than we’d thought. Less freemium, more enterprise. Less viral, more demand gen. Less TechCrunch, more Marketing Manager Weekly. Less speaking, more listening. More capital, more dilution. Wherever it takes you, it’s different than you thought.
And that can be discouraging. But the thing is, in SaaS you have to love the Business you’re with, the business you grow into, not the one you thought you’d have on Day 1. Because I can almost guarantee you it will change. It does for almost everyone in SaaS.
I was reminded of this vividly in the latest press on the Ron Johnson / J.C. Penney saga. Obviously, a mismatch and a failure. But I’ll tell you as a SaaS guy what really stood out to me. He had a $1,000,000,000 evergreen private-label product line called St. John’s Bay. It did a billon bucks, every year. A great seller with loyal customers and apparently a very strong design and merch team behind it. And you know what he did?
He completely shut it down. I.e., from $1,000,000,000 in basically recurring revenue — to $0. Because it didn’t fit his vision of the new, upscale J.C. Penney. It was too downscale. And he fired almost everyone working on it.
Now, look, I get the need for change. And I know I’m SaaS-biased. But I’m pretty sure I know what Ron Johnson got wrong. It wasn’t his general vision to take J.C. Penney upscale. It wasn’t even his idea of ending couponing and discounting, as big a mistake as that turned out to be. That could have been (and has been) reversed, if that was all it was.
It’s that he didn’t love the Company he was with. He didn’t love J.C. Penney. He didn’t love the product. He was embarrassed by it in fact. The $1,000,000,000 of St. John’s Bay perhaps most especially.
For you, there’s no excuse. Don’t like where your SaaS business is headed? A little tougher, a little more complex, a little longer sales cycles (maybe a lot longer) than you planned? Buck up and get over it.
Do you really think when Marc Benioff and Parker Harris started Salesforce, they wanted to invest such a huge amount of time and energy in custom tabs? I mean, of course not. That’s just the way it evolved and changed.
Learn to love your SaaS business. Love the minutiae of its details, the nuances of your customers, each and every feature gap and bug and problem — all the endless issues. Love them. Because if you have some traction — you can definitely get it to the next stage. Even if you’re not going to be able to do it the way you’d initially hoped. Success begets success in SaaS. But if you don’t learn to love your SaaS business, it’s too hard, too competitive. You’ll fail.