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Scaling digital innovation from NZ

open this image in new window: NZ SaaStr 2019 mission

This article was published on 25 February 2019

Over 150 NZ software innovators made a huge splash at the world’s biggest software event in San Jose last week. Their fern-shirted presence far outnumbered representation from any other visiting country, prompting special mentions and even suggestions of a new event Down Under.

The SaaS (software as a service) mission to the annual SaaStr conference has doubled in size every year for the past few years, to over 150 this year. Back home, our first NZ-based SaaS event, Southern SaaS, sold out instantly with a substantial waiting list, prompting webinars for those that missed out.

What’s the SaaS deal?

Some of the most recognisable names in tech today – think Netflix, Spotify, Google, Audible – are Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses, which offer their cloud-based software via subscription.

And increasingly Kiwi SaaS companies are reaching out alongside them to a worldwide customer base. Sure, we have global success stories like Xero and Pushpay, but a greater number of other smart, ambitious firms have pioneered digital solutions in everything from AI service chatbots (Ambit), to museum analytics (Dexibit), to finding a car park (Parkable). At Callaghan Innovation alone, we deal with over 500 SaaS businesses.

Kiwi SaaStr 2019
Kiwi SaaStr 2019
Scaling $0 to $100m

What better place to be immersed in the scale of the global SaaS opportunity than at the world’s biggest gathering of SaaS executives, founders and entrepreneurs. Our NZ mission represented around 85 SaaS firms, ranging from big, established players to start-ups run by a handful of founders.

The goal of SaaStr is to get everyone in the SaaS community to hit $100 million in annual recurring revenue – the benchmark used in the SaaS world. So the big focus of SaaStr Annual is on how businesses can scale. For many Kiwi delegates, it was incredibly eye-opening seeing how ambitious and determined the other delegates were. It’s a perspective you don’t necessarily get when growing a firm from New Zealand. 

So how does a company supercharge the number of subscribers receiving its product or service as quickly and efficiently as possible? Here are five of my key lessons from SaaStr Annual that I think matter most for Kiwi companies:

  1. Product/market fit: This was the second SaaStr I’ve attended, and a consistent cornerstone message is ensuring your product is the right fit for your target market. It’s about spending your precious, and often limited, resources on things that matter – primarily creating an offering customers will want to pay for month in, month out.
  2. Go-to-market fit: This area of conversation really resonated with me – the focus on not only getting your product right, but ensuring factors like your pricing is also on point, and that your marketing engine is able to generate enough leads for your sales team to scale. Many of the New Zealand companies involved in the delegation took the opportunity, either before or after the conference, to spend more time in-market in the US, assessing issues of product/market and go-to-market fit. While SaaS breaks down many barriers to reaching customers — thanks to its digital distribution model — you still can’t replace ‘being there’ when it comes to understanding your target market.
  3. Data-driven decision making: Attending SaaStr really hit home to me how data-driven US-based SaaS companies are. They spend a huge amount of time and money to precisely understand their product, market and customers at a very empirical level. In a business where scale (ultimately, growing your numbers fast) is the holy grail, seeing how these companies operate is enlightening for Kiwi businesses, which still tend to have a greater reliance on anecdotal evidence when making decisions.
  4. Culture: Another SaaStr Annual highlight for me was the address by the president of Atlassian, Jay Simons. The Australian enterprise SaaS firm founded by a couple of university mates in 2002 now has around 3,000 employees with offices in seven countries and Jay’s focus was on the importance of maintaining a company’s culture of transparency and equality as it scales.
  5. Community: What we hear time and time again from SaaS founders is that the number one benefit for them is connections with other NZ SaaS founders. Starting any kind of business can be a tough and lonely road. This SaaS community understands that to be resilient, scale faster and compete globally, they’ve got to learn from each other, share opportunities and collaborate.

The next Southern SaaS event is planned for the 28 and 29 August. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates so you don’t miss out!

Craig Shipman - Callaghan Innovation digital
Craig Shipman - Callaghan Innovation digital

Craig Shipman, business innovation advisor at Callaghan Innovation, was among the Callaghan Innovation delegation to SaaStr Annual, held in San Jose, 3 - 8 February 2019.