Over the past 24 months, views of both SaaStr.com and SaaStr-on-Quora have grown 10x. While it fluctuates a bit, we now regularly get 2-2.5m views a month across all our content, and averaged out, it continues to grow ~7% Month-over-Month. We’ve also crossed 11,000 subscribers to our SaaStr Weekly newsletter just six months or so after formally launching it, and that seems to continue to grow at about the same rate.
Ok this ain’t ARR and it ain’t that big of a deal, but since personally I knew nothing about content (let alone content marketing), Twittering, Medium-ing, Linkedin-ing, or anything else, perhaps it might be helpful to share the learnings, such as they are. I think the uber-lessons though in many cases are the same as our core SaaStr themes. So for a little fun, I’ll try to map them together (our 10x in views to your journey to $10m ARR).
Learning #1: Even if you Have Just 10 (Unaffiliated) Readers — You Have Something. When we put up the first SaaStr post in ’12, I also got my first Twitter favorite ever on the Tweet linking to it — from Aaron Levie. As the first posts went up, obviously the views were relatively few — but they were of high quality. I mean there is SO much content on the internet. Everywhere. It’s like a SaaS product. Why would anyone buy your product? And why would anyone read your content? But if you get a small but high quality group of folks reading your content — you probably have something.
Learning #2: It Compounds. Yes we know this from SaaS. It takes a long time to push that boulder up the hill. It can often seem like you’ll never get to $1m ARR. It seems like the same thing is true in content. With 2,000+ pieces of SaaStr content … the new stuff does drive a large % of views. But the long tail builds on itself. More on that here.
Learning #3: Double Down on What Works to Get to Initial Scale. The largest channels for SaaStr content distribution are SaaStr.com and Quora. We’ve tried Medium. Doesn’t seem to work at all, at least not today. We’ve tried LinkedIn. LinkedIn posts get ~1,500 views on average, which is a rather small compared to what others channels get … and the audience, while interesting, is pretty far from our core audience. The SaaStr Weekly newsletter is growing quickly (to almost 12,000 subscribers in just about 6 months), but doesn’t seem to generate that many clicks to the featured content. We started investing more in Twitter about 12 months ago. That does seem to perform. As Tomasz Tunguz notes on his blog as well, it has become a leading source of views to SaaStr.com. “Google Search” remains the #1 source of traffic.
Now that we’re at “Initial Scale” in some sense for a blog-community-content-site … we can start playing more. There’s some fat. Not much, but a little. We can now invest in some new initiatives (see below) that would have been distracting and thus ultimately a waste of time before now.
Learning #4: Once You Hit Initial Traction — Almost All That Matters Is The Team. Gretchen DeKnikker, SaaStr COO and her extended, distributed team, and Max Altschuler of Sales Hacker, who together with Reinventing Events puts on the SaaStr Annual for us … they are responsible for basically all the progress the past 10 months. We’ll have over 5,000 SaaS founders at the ’16 SaaStr Annual, across 3 days. We’re taking over the entire Masonic Center for a week, for goodness sake!! Only possible with the best of the best. Everything that’s expanded our audience, dramatically improved the reader experience, etc. has been through Gretchen. More on that here.
Learning #5: Connecting In Person Is Even More Important Now. Whether it’s a community or a SaaS product sold via inside sales… we don’t meet our customers (or readers). This is important. It’s customer success. It’s why you need to put on your first customer conference even if you only have 50 customers. We did a series of early events in Menlo Park, that I wasn’t sure why we did. I just saw that the Buffer guys and others did some meet-ups and wanted to see if the SaaStr community wanted to do them too. They did. We kept going. We added content and speakers. Then we had a great meet-up with Work-Bench and Greenhouse.io last summer in New York… and it began to build. Over 400 founders came from all across Europe (Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Italy, France, etc. etc.) to come to our London Summer Social. And we’ll have 5,000+ at the ’16 SaaStr Annual which will be the largest non-vendor event in the industry. The more time you spend in front of the iMac… and your customers (er, readers) do… the more important it is to find a way to connect with them in person.
Learning #6: It Doesn’t Get Easier. But — You Just Get Better. We wrote about this a long time ago. SaaStr makes $0 in profits (it loses a not immaterial amount of money right now, in fact). It’s still a lot of work to get on stage and do a good job. It’s takes just as many hours to try to produce valuable content. In fact, it takes more work now. The community is so much larger, which means more meetings, more discussions, etc. Whatever SaaStr is exactly, it’s been > 3 years and it takes more mental commitment than ever. But now… we know what people want to hear about. Who they want to hear from. And it gets easier. The events, the content, the community are all so much better than they were 18-24 months ago. But not easier.
Learning #7: Your TAM Is What You Make of It. And You Don’t Really Know How Large Your Market Is. It’s impossible for even 100.000% of all the SaaS founders across the world (the initial SaaStr audience) to view this content 2.5 million times a month. Impossible. That’s surprising enough. The even more surprising thing is that it’s still growing, and even, accelerating. The next goal is 10 million views a month. What I didn’t see was (1) how global the community would become, (2) how applicable a lot of our learnings are to folks in B2B2C, to general B2B, Big Tech Cos., and even e-commerce … really, anything where you are selling something on the internet. When you think of the SaaStr “market” that way — it’s huge indeed. Versus the tiny niche of SaaS founders we started with. More here.
Learning #8: Verticals are Far, Far Bigger Than They Used to Be. Vertical SaaS was a tough thing to complete just a few years ago. Can SaaS ERP for hair salons, or adventure travel, or dentists’ offices, or office security, really become $100m+ ARR businesses? Turns out they can be — because the end customers are finally buying SaaS solutions and systems of record in almost every vertical. OK, maybe the comparison to a blog-and-a-bit-more is a bit of a stretch, but not totally. It’s 2015. Maybe a community-and-content around SaaS can be just as big as TechCrunch was a few years ago. Maybe even just as big as BusinessInsider is today. Sounds crazy. But no longer impossible. Because everything is just so much bigger.
Learning #9: Yes, Stick to What You Know. But Challenge Yourself to Go Further. We’re at least going to try to do more. To build a co-selling space (see below). To create the largest community on the internet for SaaS founders and founders-to-be. To help you get to $1m, $10m, and then $100m ARR as fast as practical — with the fewest unforced errors. We’re going to build more, invest more, and try more things that are a lot more work and stress than what we’re doing today. More on this theme here.
Lesson #10: Money Matters. (But You’ll Find Your Own Way). Funding your SaaS start-up is a complex and often stressful topic. Turns out even for SaaStr there are some parallels. We’ve invested — believe it or not — millions of dollars gross into SaaStr. Just putting on the SaaStr Annual ’16 in February will cost over $2,000,000!! (Renting the Masonic Center for a week alone is about $750,000 burdened, and food & bars alone are another $750,000 rough-and-tough — just for starters). And the core “burn rate” for SaaStr beyond that is about $40,000 a month, believe it or not. We have a small but high quality, paid team, salaries, an office, etc. To get to 10m views a month… we’ll have to invest more. It’s OK. We’ll find a way. But it won’t be possible without investment. You can hack almost anything for a while. But then you need great people, a great team, and to do things a great way. Even on the cheap, even bootstrapped… it does take money. And you have to invest ahead.
Finally – it’s fun. Thank you! Stick with us. It’s just getting good.
And if you can — come to the SaaStr Pre-Holiday Soiree on Thursday! We’re “sold out” but have 50 seats in final reserve… get on the waitlist here and we’ll be able to let a lot of folks in.