The 4 things that matter most are things that it’s often hard to take too seriously in the early days.
Culture? Yes, there’s nothing more important. But in the early days, the culture really just is the co-founders. There’s just not that much more when the team is tiny.
Brand? In the early days, you sort of make fun of brands as old school.
Customer Visits (and Zooms)? No time, or at least done when you can fit them in. Gotta spend all your time closing new customers. It’s do or die if you can’t put points up on the board.
Continuous Recruiting? No time. You are busy being VP of 4 different functions yourself.
But later, you’ll see, as long as you have reasonably happy customers … nothing else will much matter once you are established, say, $8m-$10m ARR.
Great cultures will create low-turn-over environments — and ones that will self-perpetuate and recruit others to join. Especially in your sales team. A sales team that is doing well, making lots of money, and hitting its plan … tends to become a magnet for other reps looking for something great. Quickly.
Great brands become incredibly important after the Early Adopter phase. Most Late Adopters don’t have time or energy to do bake-offs. Once a category is established, 80% of prospects just want to buy whatever is proven. If that is you … you win. Invest like crazy in your brand as you approach $10m ARR. And guard it jealously.
Customer visits (and Zooms). Later, you’ll see sales will begin to take care of itself once you have a great VP of Sales. She’ll know when to bring you into deals. You need to get on the road more. Listen. Present. Take customers out to dinner. Do 10 customer Zooms a week if you can, or at least 6 (more on that here). You’ll see improving and learning from the Next 10 Years After The Sale is the most important part of the customer journey of all for a CEO to be involved in.
Continuous recruiting. You’ll start off recruiting your friends, and finally finding a VP or two through your network. Then you have to commit 20% of your time to recruiting, even by $1m in ARR. But as you approach $10m, you have to move even beyond that. You have to do Continuous Recruiting. Build a recruiting team, and spend 2+ hours a day, when you are in the office, meeting candidates. Embrace Continuous Recruiting. The team is all that matters in general, but especially after $10m ARR. The playbook will be muchly set. It’s time to constantly make sure you have the best team to implement it.
“I’d spend 80% of my time with customers if I could” — Phil Fernandez, founder and former CEO of Marketo
(note: an updated SaaStr Classic post)