The second SaaStr post ever, way back in late 2012, was “Everybody Lies: SaaS Revenues in the Inc. 5000“.  It was a fun one, analyzing the only public source of data on just how much ARR a lot of SaaS companies had.  No one had IPO’d, no one really knew.  Box in 2015 was the first IPO from the SaaS 2.0 generation.

Just re-reading this now, 9 years later (wow), I can see so many things.  Power laws, low NPS issues, and more.  Let’s take a look back at where HubSpot, Upwork, and others were in 2011 GAAP revenue — and where they are today.  A decade later.

I’ll update the post below.  Comments and learnings 9 (!) years later in Bold.

But to me the takeaways are:

  • If you have something good at $10m ARR, you can scale forever, at least potentially.  We all sort of know this already.  But looking back at the class of ’12 here in ’21 shows it very, very viscerally.
  • Very fast-growing companies had great exits, but the “fairly fast ones” had even bigger exits than the very fastest-growing in the class of 2012!  HubSpot being, in the end, worth 7x Marketo is the most visceral example.  And as fast as HubSpot grew, it was still only mid-pack in terms of growth on this list.
  • Several of the slower-growing ones did well, too — as long as they hit scale ($20m-$40m+ ARR).


The original 2012 post, with 2021 updates in “Where It Went”:

“Every non-public SaaS company lies about their ARR.  It’s sort of like how consumer internet companies all lie about their user numbers.  Maybe they fudge bookings in there.  Or they lean forward.  Or quote where they’ll be in a quarter or two.  In any event, everybody lies, even if the answers are generally directional correct.

Perhaps the one exception is when they are silly enough to try to win the meaningless Inc. 500 / 5000 awards.  Generally, audited or reviewed financials must be submitted, so I assume they are in the ballpark of correct.

Learnings for this year, for 2011 GAAP revenue (Inc. rates them on 3-Year Growth – a slightly strange metric for start-ups at all different stages), for SaaS and SaaS-ish startups:

[note, the higher they are on the list, the faster they are growing on a % basis YoY]

  • #7 AdRoll.  $12.4 in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went:  Now valued at $1.5B and called Nextroll.  Really more Adtech than SaaS.
  • #8 Acquia.  $21.8m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went: $1B acquisition by Vista in 2019.  A great outcome, but perhaps not as huge as you might expect given its torrid growth.
  • #72 Rocketlawyer.  $14.2m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went: $233m+ in growth financing (at implicit valuation of $1B+) in 2021.
  • #78 Marketo.  $32.9m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went: IPO’d in 2013, hit $250m ARR by 2016, acquired for $1.8b by Vista PE, and then Adobe for $4B+.
  • #99 SugarSync.  $11.3m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  A fraction of Box, but they are a player at a true eight figures in revenue last year.  A challenging space in the end.
  • #172 Pardot.  $7.4m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Room at the bottom in marketing automation, with them presumably hitting eight figures this year.  Where it Went: Acquired for $100m shortly after as crossed $10m ARR.  Today at $250m+ ARR.
  • #264 Janrain.  $3.4m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  A great space, but $30B OKTA and others won it.  Lesson?  $3m ARR is too early to know.  
  • #314 HubSpot.  $28.5m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Outstanding performance — but again about 20% less than I’d expect from the PR.  Consistent with thesis. Where it Went:  The top “winner” on the list.  A $28B Market Cap today at $1B+ in ARR.  Top-tier revenue retention for SMBs and relatively high pricing for SMBs scales nicely.
  • #543 Upwork (oDesk).  $25.8m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Thought this would be about $50m.  Where it Went: A $7B market cap and IPO.
  • #557 SEOmoz.  $11.4m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Boy, there is just so much money in marketing.  Where it Went: $45m revenue in 2017 and reported $100m+ in 2021, but acquired for modest sum in 2021.
  • #563 Demandware.  $56.5m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Wow.  Where it Went: Bought for Salesforce for $2.8 billion.
  • #667 Bazaarvoice.  $64.5m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Marketing, marketing, marketing.
  • #806  $91.1m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Who would have thought? IPO’d, $1.2 billion market cap. 
  • #923 YouSendit.  $39.3m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Acquired by OpenText in 2018 likely for relatively little.  A tough space to compete in (Box, etc).
  • #1129 BigMachines.  $49.8m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went: Acquired by Oracle in 2013 for $400m.  CEO then founded G2 Crowd and Steelbrick, and sold Steelbrick (a 2.0 version of BigMachines) for $360m in 2015 to Salesforce! And G2 is now worth $1.1B+!
  • #1272 Bronto Software.  $17.2m in 2011 GAAP revenue.
  • #1848 Intaact Technology.  $20.3m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Where it Went: Acquired for $850m+ by Sage in 2017.  Slower growth isn’t the end of the world.  Sometimes, it takes a while for the market to catch up to you.
  • #2298 SAVO.  $25m in 2011 GAAP revenue.
  • #2744  TRUSTe.  $10.3m in 2011 GAAP revenue.
  • #2802 VerticalResponse.  $24.1m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  Sold for $27m (1x revenues?).  Being early isn’t everything.
  • #2987 Bullhorn.  $33.6m in 2011 GAAP revenue.  HR is hard.
  • #3781  $8.2m in 2011 GAAP revenue, but only up from $5.7m in 2008.
  • #4563 Accolo.  $7.6 million in 2011 GAAP revenue.  See:  HR is hard.  Do marketing SaaS start-up instead.

I wish everyone would try to win this award.”


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