On the first episode of the Angles and Insight podcast, SaaStr Founder and CEO Jason Lemkin chats with Zapier CEO Wade Foster about the future of B2B SaaS in 2024 and beyond.

They dive into the nuances of topics like:

  • Evolving dynamics of remote work
  • The most effective marketing channels of 2024
  • Owned assets vs. “walled gardens” 
  • The practical realities vs. the hype around AI

As everyone here at SaaStr knows, Jason sold his first company, Echosign, for $400M. He is a top VC in the industry and runs SaaStr, the largest SaaS event in the world. Wade Foster, founder and CEO of Zapier, runs a category-creating brand that makes all your tech work together seamlessly – no coding required. Zapier was last valued at over $5B.

First, we’ll look at both of these legends’ viewpoints on the hybrid work environment and the best way to approach it in 2024.

Remote vs. In-Person: Which is Better?

Zapier has been a fully remote company since its inception in 2011 when remote wasn’t mainstream. Jason has noted the importance of a hybrid model and, in 2023, added that many CROs have said they want folks back in the office at least three days a week because those outside of the top 5% of performers suffer from a remote model. Is that true today?

Let’s first unpack the return to work and hybrid models. Is there nuance based on company size or industry?

“The distributed workforces of today are radically different than when Wade started,” Jason says. His number one reason is that before March 2020, when people were distributed, they had one job.

Today, the majority of revenue professionals likely work multiple side hustles. When March 2020 hit, you laughed when you heard stories of engineers working 4-6 hour jobs, but it became rampant on the revenue side of the industry. Side hustles were hard enough in the office together, but when you’re home working three hours a day, you can’t help yourself.

When Wade started, it was visionary and edgy to be remote.

Zapier Had a Competitive Advantage Working Remote

When Zapier first started, they played the hand they were dealt. As first-time founders, they spent time between the Bay area and Central Missouri. They had no hiring expertise and little money. So, how did they compete for engineers who were getting offers from Facebook and Google?

They used the competitive advantage of recruiting out of the Midwest, where they knew the markets and the people better. Tapping into a market they were familiar with and trusted, helped their dollars go further.

You can get really good at this remote world if you’re born into it. There are real trade-offs and clear advantages, and those who weren’t born that way struggled in 2020 when they were forced to do it. Today, the entire talent base has had a taste of it, so it’s tough to go back to the office five days a week. If enough employers defect, it changes the hiring market.

As a manager, you have to do things differently. If your people are doing nine other jobs, they probably won’t be very good at any of them. But if you know what success looks like in sales, support, engineering, etc., and your people are hitting the bar, it doesn’t matter if they have a side hustle.

It might actually help them learn new things they wouldn’t learn on the job. The challenge is that a lot of managers aren’t good at managing performance to that degree.

How to Keep the Culture Tight and Maximize Productivity

When Wade started a fully remote team, it did lead to employee happiness to some extent. The folks who self-selected this and had what it took to make distributed work work were happier.

Jason says folks in tech today are the unhappiest they’ve ever been.

  • 2021 was the boom.
  • 2022 was a knife falling in terms of public companies.
  • 2023 was the year of layoffs.
  • 2024 is the year of efficiency.

Now, every company is twice as efficient as 2.5 years ago, and this whole debate has changed. There’s no magic way to make people happy; having no-layoff policies or even profit sharing.

Leaders have to make people happier, but it’s harder in 2024. Letting people work from home has become table stakes, which doesn’t make them happy. There’s also a cultural element. People like to do well, so you’ll have a higher chance of building a company that wins if your recruiting engine is dialed in and you get the right folks in.

You can do that remotely, in-office, or hybrid, but it’s all harder than five years ago.

Parting Advice When Deciding Between Remote, Hybrid, and In-Person

”My best advice is to have one culture,” Wade says. That’s the toughest thing. Many folks try this hybrid thing but create a bunch of subcultures. If you want everything in-office, do that. If you want to do it remotely, do it all remotely. But you have to think about it.

Jason says most founders, not including Wade, quietly say they want more people in the office. Those founders don’t get what they want. The reality is, if you recruit the best VPs under you, let them decide what types of teams to build. You have to lean into their strengths and trust them to handle it.

The Most Effective Marketing Channels in 2024

”Jason is one of the most prolific content creators in the SaaS industry, and Wade has steered Zapier to a multi-billion dollar valuation off the back of a remarkable SEO content playbook,” Angles and Insight podcast host Casey Hill shares. What is the most efficient marketing channel you can do in 2024?

At Zapier, they’ve been good at search. You have good domain authority and keywords you rank for, and that’s incredibly efficient alongside their partnership model. It’s not sexy or novel, but it works. Of course, it’s more competitive than it used to be, but search still works regardless of any new trends.

Jason agrees that search and SEO can be magical, even if it’s 10-20% harder. SEO and content marketing aren’t dead; if you think they are, you might not be trying hard enough.

It’s annoying that everything above the fold in Google is an ad, but it still works even if you have to do twice as much work for the same output.

Search and Email are the Great Gifts of the Internet

“I can still send an email, and it’s opened,” Jason says. If you don’t take advantage of email, search, and content marketing, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. What we’ve lost track of is that marketing is hard because everything is expensive –  ads, events, field, and even steak dinners.

It’s easy to say no and cut costs, but the art of a marketer is to say we’ll spend 15% of ARR this year and to turn five into 10 or 30 into 60. Cutting costs and turning zero into zero won’t cut it.

These channels are saturated, and the bar is high to stand out. Doing a little YouTube here, a little social event there, and a little LinkedIn posting here won’t stand out. You won’t be able to cut through the noise.

Instead, find what you’re good at, become great at it, and spend 80-90% of your energy on that thing. Spend the extra 10-20% finding something new.

Are There Any Substantial Shifts In Social Media?

Different social media go in and out. Quora is dead. Twitter, now X, has changed drastically. Before, you could throw up a post, and a thousand people would read it. Now, you’re lucky to get 50 people reading it.

The thing about sharing content is that people like to learn in different ways. Some love podcasts, while others prefer blogs. Or you like to read blogs at night, listen to podcasts on your morning run, and browse YouTube during a lull in your day.

You want to be in as many channels as you can produce quality content in and not repurpose mediocre content spread across social media. Lazy marketers might reuse something eight times, but great content likes to find multiple homes, finding the right moment where people can learn that content. But you need to tailor it to those channels and styles of learning.

Social Media Are Quietly Walled Gardens

“All social media, in my experience, are quiet walled gardens today,” Jason says. This makes it much harder to drive people to your website, so you have to be smarter and make sure your content and message survive on their own.

You also have to build your list. Marketers say your list is the only thing you own, and that’s true, but it’s more about the fact that email will work for our grandkids. So, if you’re going long and want to run Zapier for 20 years, Quora will die, and Twitter won’t work anymore, but you can win by being cleverer.

One way to be cleverer is by using AI as a tool to punch above your weight class. A lot of folks try to use AI as a silver bullet, but this type of content generation is the same type of SEO, content mill, and spam that doesn’t cut through.

Smart marketers use it to be more efficient, and they have a good story, message, and something that matters.

How AI Will Change The Way We Work and Run Our Businesses

AI is a clear buzzword, and people know it’s important. So, what are table stakes, and what is transformative? Wade believes it’ll be slower the larger the company is. There are probably individuals in those companies doing interesting and novel things, but larger organizations move slower and have more questions about data privacy.

Smaller companies have much more room for experimentation, and the types of keyword research and content creation you can do with a human in the loop are incredible. People can work faster at getting things on paper or in a video.

Last year, the coolest apps in AI were considered demoware. But everything has changed, especially in places like contact centers, where the majority of new budget goes into AI automation and the largest customers are eliminating half of their support teams.

Half of sales and marketing resources might not exist in 24 months. Last year, Jason believed everything would have a human in the loop, but soon, you might be able to go into your marketing tool or Husbpot, click a button, and your marketer is there.

AI Has To Be 80% As Good As A Person

In 2021, we didn’t care about efficiency, with $100k of revenue per employee. Now, at $400k in revenue per employee, people will sacrifice NRR to have an AI AE.

Crappy support bots have been around forever. But if it can be 80% as good as a person, it’s efficient and works. People won’t tolerate the experience of 2019 chatbots, but they will sacrifice a little churn to have an automated CS team that solves problems in an hour instead of next week.

Who wouldn’t want to hire “someone” that’s 80% as good as a human, doesn’t complain or quit, and works in every time zone? It will be an utter force of nature by the end of the year.

AI is the fastest-growing category at Zapier. It’s real. Instead of bad BDRs sending out templated emails, you can give context to a lead from the website, and AI will write the BDR email better than the actual person did.

It’s not better than the best, but it’s better than the rest.

For some, if your product ACV is relatively low and efficiency matters, it could be the difference between having a sales function and nothing. That’s huge! You can compete where you couldn’t compete before.

Every Trusted App with Great Leadership Will Win

When you trust an app, and they add in AI, people are willing to use it and pay for it. There’s this tech VC debate of whether startups vs. incumbents will win, but the fun thing about AI is that both will win in the short term.

We don’t need 10k automated SDR apps, and there’s an explosion of apps. That’s ok, and life in the ecosystem right now. However, there will likely be one or two in each category that build nine- and ten-figure businesses.

Every trusted app with great leadership will win.

If you have good ideas, can you cut through the noise? It all comes back to first principles: “Can you do something compelling?” The tooling will be less and less of a competitive advantage once these products become 90% as good as a human, or maybe even better.

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