SaaStock is an events company—an industry particularly hard hit during 2020—for early-stage B2B SaaS founders. Founder Alex Theuma tells us how his business not only survived the last few months but is now poised for greater things.
Once your SaaS company reaches $10M annual recurring revenue (ARR), SaaStock founder Alex Theuma has reached his goal. Job well done—now you can go on and make more. Alex won’t lose interest in you because of your success, though. Instead, he might tap you to speak at one of his live or virtual conferences, introduce you to one of the fledgling SaaS entrepreneurs he nurtures as a mentor, or help you to get in touch with more investors.
But let’s take a step back and hear from Alex in his own words.
What is SaaStock?
SaaStock understands the challenges of running and scaling a SaaS business and has been going since 2016. We have an ambitious goal: to help SaaS companies and specifically SaaS founders get to $10M ARR.
In the past, we used to do this mainly through live events. We invited speakers on SaaS-specific topics, offered great networking opportunities and supported our conference work with local community activities, SaaStock media and blogs.
Now everything we do is geared towards helping SaaS founders or CEOs grow their businesses.
Who, Specifically, is Your Target Market?
We work with founders on their journey towards $10M ARR.
The sweet spot is someone who has started a SaaS company or is trying to start one. Some of these entrepreneurs might still be pre-revenue, but the majority will have some revenue, even if it is only a few thousand in monthly recurring revenue. They are still trying to figure out how to build their companies, grow them and scale-up. Some know what they are doing, but need help to grow faster. So, our customers are not necessarily people who are struggling—many of them require specific information that is relevant to them in their business stage.
These founders tend to come into our ecosystem because it works. They start consuming content from SaaStock.com, attending our events, and maybe join our Founder Membership. Over time, we help them learn the mechanics of growing and scaling a SaaS business. We assist them in getting new leads and customers and they learn how to market their businesses. Finally, we help them get to the magic $10m.
After this point, they usually do not need our help so much because they have figured things out. I guess our most active customers are between $2M and $5M ARR. Once they pass this point, their engagement wanes as their businesses accelerate.
How Did the Pandemic Affect Both Your Business and the SaaS Industry?
Even with global business slowing down, the SaaS industry was generally more resilient than many others during the pandemic. SaaS companies did not have to hold or distribute inventory like other businesses, so they were not kneecapped by transport and other shutdowns.
As a result, a lot of SaaS businesses boomed during the pandemic. Look at Zoom, for example—it was just this business tool, but now everybody is using it, and its value has gone through the roof. Some companies saw two years of growth in two months. Companies like Zoom, Shopify, Hopin, Livestorm, and others in the remote or cloud space exploded. For SaaStock, the pandemic was both a disaster and an opportunity to expand.
Even though we work in the SaaS space, we are an events company, and events companies took a massive knock in March last year. Our revenue dropped from steady growth to zero in a month, but we still had the overheads of staff and offices in three cities. If we had served the hospitality or travel industry, that would have been the end of us. But the SaaS industry was doing very well, and the parts of that industry we served still needed what we did. They still believed in SaaStock—we just needed to find a practical way to connect with them.
How Did You Switch from Live to Virtual Conferencing During 2020?
We had to get back to generating revenue quickly, and the fastest way to do so was through virtual conferences.
At the time, in March and April 2020, virtual conferencing was not a thing. But I had a heads-up from a venture capital contact in about October 2019, asking me to look at this virtual conference company and share what I thought about it. The company was an event technology platform called Hopin. So, we looked at them first, liked what we saw and they turned out to be great.
Not that it was all easy. We had to come up with a name for the virtual conference, a website, the brand, the marketing and so on. There were many barriers at the time as it was the height of the first wave of COVID-19 and nobody knew what would happen. Marketing budgets were frozen, and we met a lot of resistance in terms of sponsoring a virtual conference. Companies simply did not want to spend money.
But there was a second kind of customer who was more aggressive, who decided to try and beat the pandemic. They were willing to spend money on marketing and networking, and that made our first virtual conference possible. In the end, it was a resounding success, with around 3,000 people attending. We also had 75 different partners, which gave us the impetus to carry on. That first conference was a huge learning curve, but it set the platform for virtual conferences going forward. In the end, we did 28 virtual events in 2020.
Then, because we were on a roll, we decided to leverage virtual events and set ourselves a target of helping 1,000 SaaS companies reach the goal of $10M ARR by 2030. We launched the SaaStock Founder Membership Program.
How Does the Membership Program Work?
To reach our goal of 1,000 $10M companies, we needed to supercharge the leaders of these businesses. We used to do so for a couple of days a year at each live conference, but now we wanted to do this 365 days of the year.
We created a CEOs’ forum for SaaS leadership. Our intention was to establish a community of supportive SaaS founders on the same journey. We knew that leading a company at any stage can be a very exposed and lonely position, so we created a space where people can connect with others in a similar position around the globe. It’s a safe space where founders can connect and talk about challenges they face and ask for help from other founders. The main value proposition is the Founder Circles, which are curated peer groups for founders to meet on a monthly basis to support one another and help each other grow. The program is a pressure-free environment where people can tap into one another’s experiences and knowledge. To expedite communication, we also created an online platform, which acts as a hub to network, access resources, exclusive events and more.
In addition, SaaStock has an extensive network of experts that normally partner with our conferences. We bring in these experts to run workshops where they share their tried and tested strategies. Members also receive guidance, motivation and support to set out clear roadmaps to achieve their goals.
How Different Is Your Company from the Businesses of Your SaaS Customers?
There are a lot of similarities, but there are some aspects that are unique to SaaS businesses.
I think all entrepreneurs are similar in their drive to build something successful, whether it is a hardware company, a fintech business or a SaaS venture.
SaaS does have a couple of differences, though. For one, the barrier to entry is lower than most other businesses. You don’t need a lot of funding to start your venture. Some SaaS founders are also more interested in conceptualizing and developing the software than running and building a company. So, they may sell the business early for a couple $100K and move on from there.
In turn, plenty of investors are interested in getting into SaaS because it is such an attractive business model. Initially, you need a bit of capital and a lot of work to build the company to the point where you start getting recurring revenue. At this point, you don’t necessarily need to develop the product much further, but revenue keeps rolling in. You can keep your costs down and your margins become pretty high. In other kinds of businesses, your margins will be much tighter. This is mainly why SaaS businesses are so sought after at the moment. It is attracting a lot of non-technical entrepreneurs.
At SaaStock, we find we have become a bit of a marketplace through our conferences and other activities. Our space is where many SaaS entrepreneurs and venture capitalists intersect.
How Has Remote Work Changed SaaS?
The pandemic has made remote work necessary and very attractive, and it has created several new opportunities for SaaS businesses. With human interaction hopefully returning to some normality, we still see remote work being an attractive option. I suppose the future will be hybrid. People no longer need to be in the same office or sit around the same table to be productive.
Hopin, our remote conference partner, has moved from “is this worth looking at” to being worth just shy of $8B today. Working remotely meant that companies could employ staff worldwide, which led to a tangle of payroll and tax issues—and new opportunities. For instance, a Dutch start-up called Remote now offers HR services for companies working globally.
The SaaS environment has been evolving, but this has accelerated as remote working has become routine over the last few months. Ten years ago, if a SaaS founder wanted to build a unicorn, he had to relocate to Silicon Valley to stand a chance of attracting the investment and gravitas to succeed. Now Europe is a hotbed of SaaS innovation, with unicorns popping up almost weekly.
I remember an investor at SaaStock saying he would never invest in a company if he had not sat down with the CEO before. A few months later, he invested in Hopin, whose founder he had never met.
Right now, if you want to build a SaaS business, and you have a good idea, it’s an ideal space to be in. There is a considerable amount of investment, and the rounds are getting bigger and bigger. So, SaaS businesses benefited on both counts—remote working created many new business opportunities, and investors are no longer dissuaded by geographical location.
SaaS has always been a few steps ahead of other sectors, and now they have taken the lead in letting people work remotely.
Where to From Here?
Last year was survival at first; then, we developed the online business. Now we are looking at reviving our in-person conferences again, but in concert with a virtual offering. So, although we had taken a knock, the pandemic has created new branches in our business to grow.
Currently, our main thrust is helping SaaS companies reach $10M ARR, and we are putting a lot of energy into our Founder Membership Program. Our flagship live conference will also return to Dublin in October 2022. Watch this space.
Interested in joining the SaaStock Founder Membership Program and taking advantage of peer group discussions, mentorship opportunities, workshops, exclusive content, resources, and more? Find your SaaS tribe and thrive—visit www.saastock.com/founder-membership to apply for the program.