How our SaaS startup improved net revenue retention by more than 30 points in two quarters

There’s certainly no shortage of SaaS performance metrics leaders focus on. While all SaaS companies do, and must, home in on acquisition metrics, there’s also massive revenue potential within your current customer base.

I think NRR (net revenue retention) is without question the most underrated metric out there. NRR is simply total revenue minus any revenue churn plus any revenue expansion from upgrades, cross-sells or upsells. The greater the NRR, the quicker companies can scale. Simply put: the power of compound math!

One of the biggest and most impactful changes we made was to move new business, retention and account management all under our chief revenue officer.

Over the course of two quarters, Terminus grew its NRR by more than 30 points, opening up incredible new levels of growth opportunities.

To boost our NRR for the better, I focused on three core pillars within our organization.

People

We took a holistic look at the organization and our org structure. One of the biggest and most impactful changes we made was to move new business, retention and account management all under our chief revenue officer. At the end of the day, it just makes a ton of sense to have acquisition and retention living under the same roof — why bother acquiring new customers if you can’t retain them?

We also rolled out a surround-sound team (around three or four people per customer) who onboard and help customers with their account from day one. In total, we have about a quarter of our company dedicated to this 24/7 support and hands-on guidance to ensure we’re enabling customers immediately.

Process

Customer experience startup Sprinklr files confidential S-1 with SEC

Sprinklr, a New York-based customer experience company, announced today it has filed a confidential S-1 ahead of a possible IPO.

“Sprinklr today announced that it has confidentially submitted a draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) relating to the proposed initial public offering of its common stock,” the company said in a statement.

It also indicated that it will determine the exact number of shares and the price range at a later point after it receives approval from the SEC to go public.

The company most recently raised $200 million on a $2.7 billion valuation last year. It was its first fundraise in 4 years. At the time, founder and CEO Ragy Thomas said his company expected to end 2020 with $400 million in ARR, certainly a healthy number on which to embark as a public company.

He also said that Sprinklr’s next fundraise would be an IPO, making him true to his word. “I’ve been public about the pathway around this, and the path is that the next financial milestone will be an IPO,” he told me at the time of the $200 million round. He said that with COVID, it probably was a year or so away, but the timing appears to have sped up.

Sprinklr sees customer experience management as a natural extension of CRM, and as such a huge market potentially worth a $100 billion, according to Thomas. But he also admitted that he was up against some big competitors like Salesforce and Adobe, helping explain why he fundraised last year.

Sprinklr was founded in 2009 with a focus on social media listening, but it announced a hard push into customer experience in 2017 when it added marketing, advertising, research, customer and e-commerce to its social efforts.

The company has raised $585 million to-date, and has also been highly acquisitive buying 11 companies along the way as it added functionality to the base platform, according to Crunchbase data.

In freemium marketing, product analytics are the difference between conversion and confusion

The freemium marketing approach has become commonplace among B2C and B2B software providers alike. Considering that most see fewer than 5% of free users move to paid plans, even a slight improvement in conversion can translate to significant revenue gains. The (multi) million-dollar question is, how do they do it?

The answer lies in product analytics, which offer teams the ability to ask and answer any number of questions about the customer journey on an ad-hoc basis. Combined with a commitment to testing, measurement and iteration, this puts data in the driver’s seat and helps teams make better decisions about what’s in the free tier and what’s behind the paywall. Successful enterprises make this evaluation an ongoing exercise.

Often, the truth of product analytics is that actionable insights come from just a fraction of the data and it can take time to understand what’s happening.

Sweat the small stuff

A freemium business model is simply a set of interconnected funnels. From leads all the way through to engagement, conversion and retention, understanding each step and making even small optimizations at any stage will have down-funnel implications. Start by using product analytics to understand the nuances of what’s working and what isn’t, and then double down on the former.

For example, identify specific personas that perform well and perform poorly. While your overall conversion average may be 5%, there can be segments converting at 10% or 1%. Understanding the difference can shine a light on where to focus. That’s where the right analytics can lead to significant results. But if you don’t understand what, why and how to improve, you’re left with guesswork. And that’s not a modern way of operating.

There’s a misconception that volume of data equals value of data. Let’s say you want to jump-start your funnel by buying pay-per-click traffic. You see a high volume of activity, with numbers going up at the beginning of your funnel and a sales team busy with calls. However, you come to learn the increased traffic, which looked so promising at the outset, results in very few users converting to paid plans.

Now, this is a story as old as PPC, but in the small percentage that do convert, there’s a lot to learn about where to focus your efforts — which product features keep users hooked and which ones go unused. Often, the truth of product analytics is that actionable insights come from just a fraction of the data and it can take time to understand what’s happening. Getting users on board the free plan is just the first step in conversion. The testing and iteration continue from there.

The dropped and the languished

Within the free tier, users may languish — satisfied with whatever features they can access. If your funnel is full of languishing users, you’ve at least solved the adoption problem, so why are they stuck? Without a testing and tracking approach, you’ll struggle to understand your users and how they respond, by segment, to changes.

Following acquisition, Episerver rebrands as Optimizely

After acquiring Optimizely last fall, content management company Episerver is adopting the Optimizely name for the entire organization.

CEO Alex Atzberger told me that the company will be rolling out new branding in the next coming months, as well as renaming its entire product suite to reflect the Optimizely brand.

“We believe it’s no longer just about personalizing the experience or driving recommendations,” Atzberger said. “The brand and word Optimizely really signifies optimal performance. Companies today of any size, any scale [need to be] much more sophisticated in terms of how they digitally connect with their customers. It’s a never-ending story.”

At the same time, he emphasized that Episerver is making the change from “a position of strength,” with the combined company seeing double-digit revenue growth last year and going live with more than 250 new customers.

Asked whether adopting the Optimizely name was always part of the post-acquisition plan, Atzberger replied, “When we acquired Optimizely, we knew that we would be acquiring not just a great product, not just a great customer base, but also acquiring a very well-known brand. We had not yet decided on [rebranding], but it was certainly something that, for me, was part of the consideration.”

In addition to announcing the new company name, Episerver/Optimizely is also announcing a new platform that it’s calling Optimization-as-a-Service, which integrates aspects of Optimizely and Episerver products to offer web targeting, testing and recommendations. As Atzberger put it, this new platform allows customers to determine “who to show something to, what content to show and how to actually show this content.”

Color raises $167 million funding at $1.5 billion valuation to expand ‘last mile’ of US health infrastructure

Healthcare startup Color has raised a sizable $167 million in Series D funding round, at a valuation of $1.5 billion post-money, the company announced today. This brings the total raised by Color to $278 million, with its latest large round intended to help it build on a record year of growth in 2020 with even more expansion to help put in place key health infrastructure systems across the U.S. — including those related to the “last mile” delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.

This latest investment into Color was led by General Catalyst, and by funds invested by T. Rowe Price, along with participation from Viking Global investors as well as others. Alongside the funding, the company is also bringing on a number of key senior executives, including Claire Vo (formerly of Optimizely) as chief product officer, Emily Reuter (formerly of Uber, where she played a key role in its IPO process) as VP of Strategy and Operations, and Ashley Chandler (formerly of Stripe) as VP of Marketing.

“I think with the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s really shone the light on that lack of infrastructure. We saw it multiple times, with lab testing, with antigen testing and now with vaccines,” Color CEO and co-founder Othman Laraki told me in an interview. “The model that we’ve been developing, that’s been working really well and we feel like this is the opportunity to really scale it in a very major way. I think literally what’s happening is the building of the public health infrastructure for the country that’s starting off from a technology-first model, as opposed to, what ends up happening in a lot of industries, which is you start off taking your existing logistics and assets, and add technology to them.”

Color’s 2020 was a record year for the company, thanks in part to partnerships like the one it formed with San Francisco to establish testing for healthcare workers and residents. Laraki told me they did about five-fold their prior year’s business, and while the company is already set up to grow on its own sustainably based on the revenue it pulls in from customers, its ambitions and plans for 2021 and beyond made this the right time to help it accelerate further with the addition of more capital.

Laraki described Color’s approach as one that is both cost-efficient for the company, and also significant cost-saving for the healthcare providers it works with. He likens their approach to the shift that happened in retail with the move to online sales — and the contribution of one industry heavyweight in particular.

“At some point, you build Amazon — a technology-first stack that’s optimized around access and scale,” Laraki said. “I think that’s literally what we’re seeing now with healthcare. What’s kind of getting catalyzed right now is we’ve been realizing it applies to the COVID crisis, but also, we started actually working on that for prevention and I think actually it’s going to be applying to a huge surface area in healthcare; basically all the aspects of health that are not acute care where you don’t need to show up in hospital.”

Ultimately, Color’s approach is to rethink healthcare delivery in order to “make it accessible at the edge directly in people’s lives,” with “low transaction costs,” in a way that’s “scalable, [and] doesn’t use a lot of clinical resourcing,” Laraki says. He notes that this is actually very possible once you reasses the problem without relying on a lot of accepted knowledge about the way things are done today, which result in a “heavy stack” versus what you actually need to deliver the desired outcomes.

Laraki doesn’t think the problem is easy to solve — on the contrary, he acknowledges that 2021 is likely to be even more difficult and challenging than 2020 in many ways for the healthcare industry, and we’ve already begun to see evidence of that in the many challenges already faced by vaccine distribution and delivery in its initial rollout. But he’s optimistic about Color’s ability to help address those challenges, and to build out a “last mile” delivery system for crucial care that expands accessibility, while also making sure things are done right.

“When you take a step back, doing COVID testing or COVID vaccinations … those are not complex procedures at all — they’re extremely simple procedures,” he said. “What’s hard is doing them massive scale and with a very low transaction cost to the individual and to the system. And that’s a very different tooling.”

StepZen snares $8M seed to build data integration API

StepZen, a new startup from the crew who gave you Apigee (which was sold to Google in 2016 for $625 million) had a different vision for their latest company. They are building a single API that pulls data from disparate sources to help developers deliver more complex customer experiences online.

Today, the startup emerged from stealth and announced an $8 million seed investment from Neotribe Ventures and Wing Venture Capital .

With years of experience working with APIs, the founders wanted to take that a step further, says CEO and co-founder Anant Jhingran. “StepZen is a product that lets front end developers easily create and consume one API for all the data they need from the back end,” he explained.

This is all in the service of providing a smoother, more consistent customer experience. That means whether you are on an e-commerce site accessing your order history or a banking app grabbing your current balance, these scenarios require pulling data from various back-end data resources. Connecting to those resources is a time-consuming task, and StepZen wants to simplify that for developers.

“Developers spend an enormous amount of time deploying and managing code that accesses the back end, and what StepZen wants to do is to give them that time back,” he said.

Instead of manually writing code to pull this data, StepZen enables developers to simply provide configuration information and credentials to connect to these back-end data sources, and then it builds a single API that handles all of the heavy lifting of pulling that data and presenting it when needed.

Jhingran uses the example of presenting a list of open orders for a customer. It sounds simple enough, but once you consider that the data could live in several places, including the CRM system, the order system or with your courier, that means accessing at least three separate and highly disparate systems. StepZen will help pull this all together via its API and present it smoothly to the user.

Today the company has 11 employees, including the three founders, with plans to add another eight or so in 2021. As they do that, CBO and co-founder Helen Whelan says they are working to build a diverse and inclusive company. While the founding team is itself diverse, they want to hire employees with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking to build the most complete product and company.

“For the first 10 or so employees, we tapped into the networks of the people who we’ve worked with, people who you know can do a great job. Then I think it’s about deliberately expanding from there and deliberately taking the time that you need to explore and expand your pipeline of candidates,” she said.

The company is just nine months old and has been spending most of this year building the solution and working with pre-alpha users. Today the product is in alpha, with plans to release it as a software service early next year.

As the company emerges from stealth, it’s looking to continue building the product and looking for ways to remove as much complexity as possible. “We know how to do the hard things on the back end. We’ve got the database technologies and the API technologies down, and it’s now about finding how to make all of that simple on the outside and easy for developers to use, ” Whelan said.

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight.  The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told me.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised over $187 million, according to Pitchbook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per Pitchbook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in the tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. (It’s worth noting that $280 million of that was secondary money raised last year.)

The acquisition gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department (or elsewhere in the company, for that matter).

Suresh Vittal, VP of platform and product for Adobe Experience Cloud, said that the two companies often work together and encounter one another’s sales teams. As the pandemic has played out, it began to make more sense to bring in-house this kind of tooling that works well in a distributed environment, and over the last several months the deal came together.

“The new normal distributed marketing team, distributed experience delivery teams, people having to work remotely — we started to see new use cases emerge around the idea of work management, around the idea of content velocity, around the idea of providing compliance and governance capabilities so no asset escapes the organization, and it goes through this process of passing through creative and the marketing teams and getting out there and really representing your brand in the right way,” Vittal explained.

Workfront CEO Alex Shootman sees the deal as a way to accelerate the roadmap while working with a much larger company. “We are barely scratching the surface of marketing and we could grow tremendously, just by having that great kind of integrated relationship,” he said.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of magnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

Workfront’s 960 employees will become part of Adobe and become part of the Adobe Experience Cloud. Shootman will continue to run it and report to Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager of the digital experience business at Adobe.

Workfront’s customers include Home Depot, T-Mobile and Deloitte, and the two companies share 1,000 common customers among Workfront’s 3,000 total customer base. In fact, it has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access.

As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years. This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in less than two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely, a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to delivery.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

5 UX design research mistakes you can stop making today

A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine listed “inadequate testing” as the top reason why startups fail. Inadequate testing essentially means inadequate or sub-par user research that leads to poor UX design which, not surprisingly, usually ends in failure. While working with startups and tech companies, I have also seen how even when people know how important user research is, they may not necessarily know how to conduct it in optimal ways.

Let’s look, then, at some of the biggest UX research mistakes companies make and what I wish I had known when I first started.

Conduct UX research early and throughout product development

When considering any potential product or service, it’s best to get certain questions answered as soon as possible. Is it actually going to be something useful and feasible for the target users and their organizations? Are your initial; assumptions correct? Ideas that seem good at first may not seem so great after research, and many commonly criticized failures were likely results of insufficient research. This is why it’s vital to begin user research early before product development has even begun.

While it is important to conduct foundational research early on, you also want to make sure to conduct evaluative research by continuously testing your product as you build or upgrade it. One of the reasons why Google products product like Gmail or YouTube are relatively easy to use for most people is that Google has teams continuously testing their products, making sure that their users know where to find what they’re looking for.

Don’t do all of the user research yourself

One of the mistakes I see many startups and entrepreneurs make (and that I myself made early on) is doing all of the UX research themselves. In some ways, books like Lean Startup” have bolstered this tendency by stressing the need to “get out of the building” and get to know your users. In itself this isn’t a bad idea—it’s good to know who your users are and to build empathy for their experiences. Likewise, this isn’t to say that you should not do any research yourselves.

However, you also want to be sure to complement that by having professional, third party UX researchers do research for you as well. When you are heavily invested in your research, as you invariably would be if it is your own product, it is difficult to conduct it in an unbiased way. And when your research participants know that you are asking them about your own project, they are not likely to provide you with good signal that can actually help you improve your product.

SAP shares fall sharply after COVID-19 cuts revenue, profit forecast at software giant

SAP announced its Q3 earnings yesterday, with its aggregate results down across the board. And after missing earnings expectations, the company also revised its 2021 outlook down. The combined bad news spooked investors, crashing its shares by over 20% in pre-market trading and the stock wasn’t showing any signs of improving in early trading.

The German software giant has lost tens of billions of dollars in market cap as a result.

The overall report was gloomy, with total revenues falling 4% to €6.54 billion, cloud and software revenue down 2%, and operating profit down 12%. The only bright spot was its pure-cloud category, which grew 11% to €1.98 billion.

SAP’s revenue result was around €310 million under expectations, though its per-share profit beat both adjusted, and non-adjusted expectations.

While SAP’s big revenue miss might have been enough to send investors racing for the exits, its revised forecast doubled concerns. Even though the company said that its customers are accelerating their move to the cloud during the pandemic — something that TechCrunch has been tracking for some time now — SAP also said that the pandemic is slowing sales, and large projects.

Constellation Research anayst Holger Mueller says this is resulting in an unexpected revenue slow-down.

“What has happened at SAP is a cloud revenue delay as customers know that SAP is only investing into cloud products, and they have to migrate to those in the future. The news is that SAP customers are not migrating to the cloud during a pandemic,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

In a sign of the times, SAP spent a portion of its earnings results talking about 2025 results, a maneuver that failed to allay investor concerns that the pandemic was dramatically impacting SAP’s business today and in the coming year.

For 2020, SAP made the following cuts to its forecasts:

  • €8.0 – 8.2 billion non-IFRS cloud revenue at constant currencies (previously €8.3 – 8.7 billion
  • €23.1 – 23.6 billion non-IFRS cloud and software revenue at constant currencies (previously €23.4 – 24.0 billion)
  • €27.2 – 27.8 billion non-IFRS total revenue at constant currencies (previously €27.8 – 28.5 billion)
  • €8.1 – 8.5 billion non-IFRS operating profit at constant currencies (previously €8.1 – 8.7 billion)

So, €300 million to €500 million in cloud revenue is now gone, along with €300 million to €400 million in cloud and software revenue, and €600 to €700 million in total revenue. That cut profit expectations by up to €200 million.

The company, however, is trying to put a happy face on the future projections, believing that as the impact of COVID begins to diminish, existing customers will eventually shift to the cloud and that will drive significant new revenues over the longer term. The trade-off is short-term pain for the next year or two.

“Over the next two years, we expect to see muted growth of revenue accompanied by a flat to slightly lower operating profit. After 2022 momentum will pick up considerably though. Initial headwinds of the accelerated cloud transition will start to turn into tailwinds for revenue and profit. […] That translates to accelerated revenue growth and double digit operating profit growth from 2023 onwards,” SAP CFO Luka Mucic said in a call with analysts this morning.

The question now becomes can they meet these projections, and if the longer-term approach during a pandemic will placate investors. As of this morning, they weren’t looking happy about it.