Group discounts let you take the whole team to TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

If you want to get the most value out of attending TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, a day-long deep dive into the rapidly changing and expanding world of software as a service, don’t go it alone — take your team. It’s a smart way to cover more ground on October 27, make more connections and increase your ROI.

We’re talking a sweet group discount, people. The early-bird pricing won’t remain in play forever, so get your group passes now and cross that money-saving task off your to-do list before the prices go up.

TC Sessions is where community meets opportunity. Each event focuses on a specific tech sector, and it’s a chance for everyone within that ecosystem to learn about the latest trends, hear from the leading experts, founders, investors and other visionaries and, of course, network.

Expect nothing less from TC Sessions: SaaS. We’re nailing down the agenda and building out a roster of impressive speakers. Does that describe you? Apply here to speak if you want to share your vast knowledge.

We’ll be announcing plenty more speakers in the coming weeks. Here’s a perfect example. Databricks co-founder and CEO, Ali Ghodsi will grace our virtual stage to talk, among other things, about the future of data management in AI.

Pro tip: Keep your finger on the pulse of TC Sessions: SaaS. Get updates when we announce new speakers, add events and offer ticket discounts.

Why should you carve a day out of your hectic schedule to attend TC Sessions: SaaS? This may be the first year we’ve focused on SaaS, but this ain’t our first rodeo. Here’s what other attendees have to say about their TC Sessions experience.

“TC Sessions: Mobility offers several big benefits. First, networking opportunities that result in concrete partnerships. Second, the chance to learn the latest trends and how mobility will evolve. Third, the opportunity for unknown startups to connect with other mobility companies and build brand awareness.” — Karin Maake, senior director of communications at FlashParking.

“People want to be around what’s interesting and learn what trends and issues they need to pay attention to. Even large companies like GM and Ford were there, because they’re starting to see the trend move toward mobility. They want to learn from the experts, and TC Sessions: Mobility has all the experts.” — Melika Jahangiri, vice president at Wunder Mobility.

TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 takes place on October 27. Grab your team, join your community and create opportunity. Don’t wait — jump on this group discount offer right now.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Pink Floyd drummer invests in Disciple Media, a platform aimed at the creator economy

Much has been made of the rise of the “creator economy” in the last year. With the Pandemic biting, millions flooded online, looking for a way to make money or promote themselves. The podcasting world has exploded, and with it platforms like Patreon, Clubhouse, and many others. But the thorny problem remains: Do you really own your audience as a creator, or does the platform own you? Companies like Mighty Networks, Circle and Tribe have tried to address this, giving creators greater control than social networks do over their audiences. Now another joins the fray.

Disciple Media bills itself as a SaaS platform to enable online creators to build community-led businesses. It’s now raised $6 million in funding in what it calls a ‘large Angel round’. It already claims to have garnered 2 million members and 500 communities since launching in 2018. Investors include Nick Mason (drummer in Pink Floyd), Sir Peter Michael (CEO of Cray Computers, founder of classic FM, Quantel and Cosworth Engineering), Rob Pierre (founder and CEO of Jellyfish), and Keith Morris (ex. chairman Sabre Insurance). It’s also announced a new Chairman, Eirik Svendsen, a expert in online marketplaces, SaaS and the publishing and media industry.

On its communities so far it has American country star and American Idol judge Luke Bryan, Gor Tex, and Body by Ciara. The platform is also available on iOS and Android and comes with community management tools, a CRM, and monetization options. The company claims its creators are now “earning millions in revenue each year.”

Benji Vaughan, Founder and CEO said: “The scale and rapid growth of the creator economy is extraordinary, and today that growth is being driven by entrepreneurial creators looking to build independent businesses outside of Youtube and the social networks.”

Vaughan, a Techno DJ and artist-turned-entrepreneur, says he came up with the idea after building similar communities for clients. He says the data created on Disciple communities is owned entirely by the host who built the network, “removing third-party risk and allowing insights to be actioned immediately”.

He told me: “We are moving from a position of effectively having ‘gig economy workers for social networks’ to owners of businesses who use social networks for their needs, not the other way around. Therefore, these people are starting to leave social networks to build their businesses and using social networks as marketing channels, as the rest of the world does. Once that migration happens where they move away from social networks as their prime platform, they need a hub where their data is going to get pulled together, they have an audience, which we see as a community that connects with itself as much as they do with the host.”

He thinks the equivalent of Salesforce or HubSpot in the creative economy is going to be a community platform: “That’s where they’re going to aggregate all the information about their valuable audience or community engagement. So, we are looking to, over time, to build out something very akin to what HubSpot sites they have for tech companies or SaaS businesses: a complete package, a complete platform to manage your engagement with your users, grow your user base and then convert that into revenue.”

Rob Pierre, founder and CEO Jellyfish said: “Creating and engaging with your community digitally has never been more important. Disciple allows you to do both of those things with a fully functional, feature-rich platform which requires very little upfront capital expenditure. It also provides numerous options to monetize your community.”

Exhibit your startup at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is hardly new, but this sector — pretty much the default business model for B2B and B2C startups — just keeps growing along with a rapidly expanding ecosystem. TC Sessions: SaaS 2021, a day-long focused look at the current state and future generations of SaaS, takes place on October 27, and it’s designed to help startup founders, investors and developers keep tabs on this increasingly sophisticated industry.

It also provides a huge opportunity for startups to demo their SaaS tech and talent to the industry’s top movers, shakers and unicorn makers. We have a limited number of Startup Exhibitor Packages available, and procrastination is not your friend. Jump on this offer and secure your virtual demo booth right now.

The $299 Startup Exhibitor Package includes your virtual booth space, four passes and full access to the event, breakout sessions, lead generation capabilities, networking, videos on-demand and a free, one-month membership to Extra Crunch.

Here’s another great reason to exhibit. You might connect with and impress the SaaS equivalent of Rachael Wilcox. Wilcox, a creative producer at Volvo Cars, attended TC Sessions: Mobility 2020 (along with both Disrupt and Early Stage that same year). Here’s why:

“I go to TechCrunch events to find new and interesting companies, make new business connections and look for startups with investment potential. It’s an opportunity to expand my knowledge and inform my work.”

As for the conference programming, we’re busy building out our agenda. But like every TechCrunch event ever created, you can count on hearing from the leading experts, icons, founders and investors.

Speaking of investors, we can share that Sarah Guo, Kobile Fuller and Casey Aylward will join us to talk about what they look for in SaaS startups. We’ll announce other exciting speakers in the weeks to come, so watch this space.

Yes, you’ll be busy exhibiting and networking, but you’ll also have time to take in some of the presentations. Come ready to engage because these presentations will be highly interactive. That’s just one of the benefits of a virtual event — more time to get those burning questions asked and answered.

So, bottom line: Exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 on October 27 is your chance to place your innovative, ground-breaking SaaS startup in front of a very targeted, very influential audience. Buy your Startup Exhibitor Package now and get ready to impress for success.

Is your company interested in sponsoring or exhibiting at TC Sessions: SaaS 2021 – Marketing & Fundraising? Contact our sponsorship sales team by filling out this form.

Localyze raises $12M for a SaaS that supports cross-border hiring and relocation

Y-Combinator-backed Localyze has nabbed $12 million in Series A funding led by Blossom Capital for a SaaS that supports staff relocations and hiring across borders.

Previous investor Frontline Ventures also participated,with a number of angel investors joining the round — including Andrew Robb (ex-Farfetch); Des Traynor, co-founder and CSO at Intercom; Hanno Renner, co-founder and CEO at Personio; David Clarke, former CTO at Workday; and Michael Wax, CEO of Forto.

In the first quarter of 2021, the Hamburg, Germany-based startup — which was founded in 2018 by a trio of women: CEO Hanna Asmussen, COO Lisa Dahlke, and CTO Franzi Löw — saw a record 300% revenue bump.

Localyze’s current roster of customers include the likes of Free Now, Trade Republic, Babbel, Thoughtworks, Tier Mobility, DeepL, Forto and Personio.

The startup suggests the pandemic-triggered rise in remote working is helping to drive demand for relocations as employees reassess where they want to be physically based. Its SaaS aims to streamline immigration-related admin tasks like visa applications; work and residence permits and registration; as well as providing help with housing and banking in the destination country.

“It was very interesting, we did of course see a negative impact from COVID-19 in 2020 but the main reason why we never worried about our business model is that we knew the businesses have never been the only driver of relocations,” Asmussen tells TechCrunch.

“We did a survey among the internationals we relocated and 98% stated that they wanted to relocate, and weren’t forced by the company. I of course believe that some people will choose not to relocate but at the same time, the increased flexibility [of remote working] opens many more doors for other people to relocate — and also for different time frames.”

To date, Localyze says it’s helped more than 2,000 people from over 100 countries relocate internationally. But it reckons that’s just the start.

“Relocation is becoming a benefit at some companies, and the overall number of people moving across borders during their working life is increasing drastically,” argues Asmussen.

Before COVID-19 hit and reconfigured so much of how we live, almost two million people relocated for work within Europe each year. But Localyze cites a PwC study on mobility in the global skilled workforce that suggests employee relocation is set to increase by 50% as we emerge from the pandemic.

“While the percentage of the global skilled workforce that is mobile — meaning that they work or worked abroad — is currently still very low, around 20% I think, it is expected to grow to up to 80% in the next decade,” she suggests. 

Localyze’s SaaS is designed to simplify and support staff relocations or cross-border hiring, offering digital tools to automate admin and case tracking, helping companies and employees navigate what can be complex, bureaucratic and even stressful immigration requirements.

“We developed a software that automates large parts of the relevant processes around global mobility,” explains Asmussen. “The core of our technology is a pipeline system that maps out all possibilities of how the employee can enter a country and matches the pipeline with the characteristics of that employee (e.g. nationality, family status or education). This guarantees that the employee gets all the relevant information throughout his/her process and that our case managers can focus on more individual questions.

“One big advantage of this pipeline system is that we built a no-code solution to manage it. Together with our CMS to edit the content of the steps, we are able to quickly expand the usability of our software to new countries and use cases.

“On the HR side our software helps to manage and track the process of all employees with the ease of mind that we notify them about changes or required actions. The HR manager can simply add a case, or transfer information over through our integration with their HRIS and we take it from there.”

Asmussen says the core of the platform is the automation of the paperwork with the startup supplementing that by providing a level of (human) support — in the form of case workers, who can field users’ questions and/or troubleshoot issues.

Case types its platform handles — such as obtaining a new visa, getting an extension etc — get broken down into a series of individual tasks that need to be carried out (and checked off), with the individual set of ‘dos’ determined by the characteristics of the person (origin, family, salary, etc.).

So essentially it’s built a decision tree with 30-50 variations per country, based on the specificity of each set of rules.

“The employee is seeing this as a personalized set of to do’s in her/his dashboard and can then go through them,” notes Asmussen, adding: “The case managers are there for questions and to give additional guidance when problems occur.

“Thanks to the automation engine, we can operate at 80% gross margin today.”

Localyze also offers a “pre-check” feature that give companies the opportunity to get information on a case that’s being considered — such as showing information on applicable conditions like the salary limits associated with a role when it comes to the visa of a new hire and the timeline that may be involved — to  make it easier for them to understand the complexity of a case. (Which may in turn help them make an informed decision on a start date for a particular hire.)

The startup says it’s been seeing growth rates hitting, on average, more than 30% month-on-month, as employer demand for its services accelerates.

The Series A funding will be used to capitalize on growing demand by expanding into new regions — with Localyze saying it will start by focusing on “major hubs” for international talent, in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and the UK, so it can target more high-growth companies with offices across Europe.

Currently it has over 120 customers — and it’s expecting that to double by the end of the year.

It also predicts existing accounts will expand in value — with Asmussen saying it’s closing larger ACVs (annual contract value), and seeing existing accounts “grow strongly” over time. (It offers tiered pricing for the SaaS, based on usage.)

Europe remains the primary focus for its business currently — with all cases it supports entailing helping customers relocate staff to the region (“from all over the world”) and within Europe itself. 

“The predominant destinations are Germany, Ireland, Spain and the UK,” says Asmussen. “With the funding, we want to accelerate our expansion in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal & Spain, besides our core market Germany. We’ve been operating in these markets for a while and now look at strengthening our go to market across Europe.”

She says Localyze’s 25-strong team will at least double by the end of the year, with the startup planning to hire across all teams — with a particular focus on expanding engineering and product to keep pace with the scaling business; and beefing up sales and customer support capacity to support its continued growth.  

On the competitor front, Asmussen names Estonia-headquartered Jobbatical as its closest rival for relocation support with the same digital focus.

She also points to Topia as providing some competing services — but says it has more of a focus on software for HR professionals and integrating partners vs Localyze providing both a HR and an employee portal plus the ‘glue’ of its “automation engine”.

Localyze also argues it differentiates vs “more traditional” relocation agencies (e.g. Cartus and Graebel), per Asmussen, because it offers “end-to-end support” in a fully digital form — giving users “full visibility and transparency at all times”, as she tells it, and helping to streamline and simplify processes in “what has previously been a complex and confusing space”.

Increased flexibility of work and and mobility of the global workforce looks set to be one firm (and typically welcome) legacy of the pandemic — one which Localyze already had a handle on supporting, putting it in a strong position to scale its SaaS as demand steps up in the coming years.

Rising levels of employee mobility may, in turn, make subscribing to a software service that assists relocations and cross-border hiring more of a ‘must have’ than a ‘nice to have’ for more types of businesses — especially as competition for talent heats up given the rising opportunities of remote work.

“In 2021, companies will need to define how they are going to operate post-COVID-19, and many companies keep locations as part of their people strategy. Yet they try to offer more flexibility in terms of location choices, which in many cases results in the creation of different talent hubs and a mix of remote with in-person hubs/offices. This means increased operations across borders and more employee mobility, both long and short-term, because people will make use of these options,” Asmussen predicts. 

Commenting on the Series A in a statement, Blossom Capital’s Ophelia Brown added: “Access to the very best talent is a huge consideration for businesses of all sizes, but for high-growth enterprises, it’s absolutely crucial that nothing gets in the way of being able to tap into the skills and abilities of staff anywhere in Europe. Localyze removes all of these barriers. Instead of being bogged down by the costly and lengthy relocation processes, enterprises can concentrate on the job at hand and their employees can feel confident and secure that their relocation – often one of the biggest decisions they’ll have to make in their career – is dealt with efficiently and without a hitch.”

Dispense with the chasm? No way!

Jeff Bussgang, a co-founder and general partner at Flybridge Capital, recently wrote an Extra Crunch guest post that argued it is time for a refresh when it comes to the technology adoption life cycle and the chasm. His argument went as follows:

  1. VCs in recent years have drastically underestimated the size of SAMs (serviceable addressable markets) for their startup investments because they were “trained to think only a portion of the SAM is obtainable within any reasonable window of time because of the chasm.”
  2. The chasm is no longer the barrier it once was because businesses have finally understood that software is eating the world.
  3. As a result, the early majority has joined up with the innovators and early adopters to create an expanded early market. Effectively, they have defected from the mainstream market to cross the chasm in the other direction, leaving only the late majority and the laggards on the other side.
  4. That is why we now are seeing multiple instances of very large high-growth markets that appear to have no limit to their upside. There is no chasm to cross until much later in the life cycle, and it isn’t worth much effort to cross it then.

Now, I agree with Jeff that we are seeing remarkable growth in technology adoption at levels that would have astonished investors from prior decades. In particular, I agree with him when he says:

The pandemic helped accelerate a global appreciation that digital innovation was no longer a luxury but a necessity. As such, companies could no longer wait around for new innovations to cross the chasm. Instead, everyone had to embrace change or be exposed to an existential competitive disadvantage.

But this is crossing the chasm! Pragmatic customers are being forced to adopt because they are under duress. It is not that they buy into the vision of software eating the world. It is because their very own lunches are being eaten. The pandemic created a flotilla of chasm-crossings because it unleashed a very real set of existential threats.

The key here is to understand the difference between two buying decision processes, one governed by visionaries and technology enthusiasts (the early adopters and innovators), the other by pragmatists (the early majority).

The key here is to understand the difference between two buying decision processes, one governed by visionaries and technology enthusiasts (the early adopters and innovators), the other by pragmatists (the early majority). The early group makes their decisions based on their own analyses. They do not look to others for corroborative support. Pragmatists do. Indeed, word-of-mouth endorsements are by far the most impactful input not only about what to buy and when but also from whom.

Databricks co-founder and CEO Ali Ghodsi is coming to TC Sessions: SaaS

In many industries, Databricks has become synonymous with modern data warehousing and data lakes. Since it’s exactly these technologies that are at the core of what modern businesses are doing around operationalizing their data, data engineering and building machine-learning models — and since Databricks is at the forefront of startups that offer these services on a SaaS-like platform, who better to join us at TC Sessions: SaaS on October 27 than Databricks co-founder and CEO Ali Ghodsi.

Ghodsi co-founded Databricks together with a handful of partners in 2013 with the idea of commercializing the open-source Apache Spark analytics engine for big data processing. As is the case with so many open-source companies, Ghodsi, who has a Ph.D. from KTH/Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and whose research focused on distributed computing, was one of the original developers of the Spark engine. At Databricks, he first served as the company’s VP of Engineering and Product Management before being named CEO in 2016.

Under his leadership, Databricks has reached a $28 billion valuation and has now raised a total of $1.9 billion. The company’s bets on open source, data and AI are clearly paying off and unlike some of its competitors, Databricks has done a good job staying ahead of the trends (and had a bit of luck given that some of those trends, including the rise of machine learning, really benefitted the company, too).

Despite consistent rumors of Microsoft and others trying to acquire the company in recent years, Ghodsi and his board have clearly decided that they want to remain independent. Instead, Databricks has shrewdly partnered with all of the big cloud players, starting with Microsoft, which actually gave the service the kind of prime placement in its Azure cloud computing service and user interface that was previously unheard of. Most recently, the company brought its platform to Google Cloud.

Ghodsi will join us at TC Sessions: SaaS to talk about building his company, raising funding at crazy valuations and what the future of data management in the AI space looks like.

$75 Early Bird ticket sales end October 1. Grab your ticket today and gain insights on how to scale your B2B and B2C company from CEOs who have done it themselves. Meet the founders building with low code/no code, meet the investors cutting the checks, and discover the next generation of SaaS startups bridging data with new technologies.

Want in on the next $100B in cybersecurity?

As a Battery Ventures associate in 1999, I used to spend my nights highlighting actual magazines called Red Herring, InfoWorld and The Industry Standard, plus my personal favorites StorageWorld and Mass High Tech (because the other VC associates rarely scanned these).

As a 23-year-old, I’d circle the names of much older CEOs who worked at companies like IBM, EMC, Alcatel or Nortel to learn more about what they were doing. The companies were building mainframe-to-server replication technologies, IP switches and nascent web/security services on top.

Flash forward 22 years and, in a way, nothing has changed. We have gone from command line to GUI to now API as the interface innovation. But humans still need an interface, one that works for more types of people on more types of devices. We no longer talk about the OSI stack — we talk about the decentralized blockchain stack. We no longer talk about compute, data storage and analysis on a mainframe, but rather on the cloud.

The problems and opportunities have stayed quite similar, but the markets and opportunities have gotten much larger. AWS and Azure cloud businesses alone added $23 billion of run-rate revenue in the last year, growing at 32% and 50%, respectively — high growth on an already massive base.

The size of the cybersecurity market has gotten infinitely larger as software eats the world and more people are able to sit and feast at the table from anywhere on Earth (and, soon enough, space).

The size of the cybersecurity market, in particular, has gotten infinitely larger as software eats the world and more people are able to sit and feast at the table from anywhere on Earth (and, soon enough, space).

Over the course of the last few months, my colleague Spencer Calvert and I released a series of pieces about why this market opportunity is growing so rapidly: the rise of multicloud environments, data being generated and stored faster than anyone can keep up with it, SaaS applications powering virtually every function across an organization and CISOs’ rise in political power and strategic responsibility.

This all ladders up to an estimated — and we think conservative — $100 billion of new market value by 2025 alone, putting total market size at close to $280 billion.

In other words, opportunities are ripe for massive business value creation in cybersecurity. We think many unicorns will be built in these spaces, and while we are still in the early innings, there are a few specific areas where we’re looking to make bets (and one big-picture, still-developing area). Specifically, Upfront is actively looking for companies building in:

  1. Data security and data abstraction.
  2. Zero-trust, broadly applied.
  3. Supply chains.

Data security and abstraction

Data is not a new thesis, but I am excited to look at the change in data stacks from an initial cybersecurity lens. What set of opportunities can emerge if we view security at the bottom of the stack — foundational — rather than as an application at the top or to the side?

Image Credits: Upfront Ventures

For example, data is expanding faster than we can secure it. We need to first know where the (structured and unstructured) data is located, what data is being stored, confirm proper security posture and prioritize fixing the most important issues at the right speed.

Doing this at scale requires smart passive mapping, along with heuristics and rules to pull the signal from the noise in an increasingly data-rich (noisy) world. Open Raven, an Upfront portfolio company, is building a solution to discover and protect structured and unstructured data at scale across cloud environments. New large platform companies will be built in the data security space as the point of control moves from the network layer to the data layer.

We believe Open Raven is poised to be a leader in this space and also will power a new generation of “output” or application companies yet to be funded. These companies could be as big as Salesforce or Workday, built with data abstracted and managed differently from the start.

If we look at security data at the point it is created or discovered, new platforms like Open Raven may lead to the emergence of an entirely new ecosystem of apps, ranging from those Open Raven is most likely to build in-house — like compliance workflows — to entirely new companies that rebuild apps we have used since the beginning of time, which includes everything from people management systems to CRMs to product analytics to your marketing attribution tools.

Platforms that lead with a security-first, foundational lens have the potential to power a new generation of applications companies with a laser-focus on the customer engagement layer or the “output” layer, leaving the data cataloging, opinionated data models and data applications to third parties that handle data mapping, security and compliance.

Image Credits: Upfront Ventures

Put simply, if full-stack applications look like layers of the Earth, with UX as the crust, that crust can become better and deeper with foundational horizontal companies underneath meeting all the requirements surrounding personally identifiable information and GDPR, which are foisted upon companies that currently have data everywhere. This can free up time for new application companies to focus their creative talent even more deeply on the human-to-software engagement layer, building superhuman apps for every existing category.

Zero-trust

Zero-trust was first coined in 2010, but applications are still being discovered and large businesses are being built around the idea. Zero-trust, for those getting up to speed, is the assumption that anyone accessing your system, devices, etc., is a bad actor.

This could sound paranoid, but think about the last time you visited a Big Tech campus. Could you walk in past reception and security without a guest pass or name badge? Absolutely not. Same with virtual spaces and access. My first in-depth course on zero-trust security was with Fleetsmith. I invested in Fleetsmith in 2017, a young team building software to manage apps, settings and security preferences for organizations powered by Apple devices. Zero-trust in the context of Fleetsmith was about device setup and permissions. Fleetsmith was acquired by Apple in mid-2020.

About the same time as the Fleetsmith acquisition, I met Art Poghosyan and the team at Britive. This team is also deploying zero-trust for dynamic permissioning in the cloud. Britive is being built under the premise of zero-trust Just-in-time (JIT) access, whereby users are granted ephemeral access dynamically rather than the legacy process of “checking out” and “checking in” credentials.

By granting temporary privilege access instead of “always-on” credentials, Britive is able to drastically reduce cyber risks associated with over-privileged accounts, the time to manage privilege access and the workflows to streamline privileged access management across multicloud environments.

What’s next in zero-based trust (ZBT)? We see device and access as the new perimeter, as workers flex devices and locations for their work and have invested around this with Fleetsmith and now Britive. But we still think there is more ground to cover for ZBT to permeate more mundane processes. Passwords are an example of something that is, in theory, zero-trust (you must continually prove who you are). But they are woefully inadequate.

Phishing attacks to steal passwords are the most common path to data breaches. But how do you get users to adopt password managers, password rotation, dual-factor authentication or even passwordless solutions? We want to back simple, elegant solutions to instill ZBT elements into common workflows.

Supply chains

Modern software is assembled using third-party and open-source components. This assembly line of public code packages and third-party APIs is known as a supply chain. Attacks that target this assembly line are referred to as supply chain attacks.

Some supply chain attacks can be mitigated by existing application-security tools like Snyk and other SCA tools for open-source dependencies, such as Bridgecrew to automate security engineering and fix misconfigurations and Veracode for security scanning.

But other vulnerabilities can be extremely challenging to detect. Take the supply chain attack that took center stage — the SolarWinds hack of 2020 — in which a small snippet of code was altered in a SolarWinds update before spreading to 18,000 different companies, all of which relied on SolarWinds software for network monitoring or other services.

Image Credits: Upfront Ventures

How do you protect yourself from malicious code hidden in a version update of a trusted vendor that passed all of your security onboarding? How do you maintain visibility over your entire supply chain? Here we have more questions than answers, but securing supply chains is a space we will continue to explore, and we predict large companies will be built to securely vet, onboard, monitor and offboard third-party vendors, modules, APIs and other dependencies.

If you are building in any of the above spaces, or adjacent spaces, please reach out. We readily acknowledge that the cybersecurity landscape is rapidly changing, and if you agree or disagree with any of the arguments above, I want to hear from you!

For SaaS startups, differentiation is an iterative process

Software as a service has been thriving as a sector for years, but it has gone into overdrive in the past year as businesses responded to the pandemic by speeding up the migration of important functions to the cloud. We’ve all seen the news of SaaS startups raising large funding rounds, with deal sizes and valuations steadily climbing. But as tech industry watchers know only too well, large funding rounds and valuations are not foolproof indicators of sustainable growth and longevity.

To scale sustainably, grow its customer base and mature to the point of an exit, a SaaS startup needs to stand apart from the herd at every phase of development. Failure to do so means a poor outcome for founders and investors.

As a founder who pivoted from on-premise to SaaS back in 2016, I have focused on scaling my company (most recently crossing 145,000 customers) and in the process, learned quite a bit about making a mark. Here is some advice on differentiation at the various stages in the life of a SaaS startup.

Launch and early years

Differentiation is crucial early on, because it’s one of the only ways to attract customers. Customers can help lay the groundwork for everything from your product roadmap to pricing.

The more you know about your target customers’ pain points with current solutions, the easier it will be to stand out. Take every opportunity to learn about the people you are aiming to serve, and which problems they want to solve the most. Analyst reports about specific sectors may be useful, but there is no better source of information than the people who, hopefully, will pay to use your solution.

The key to success in the SaaS space is solving real problems. Take DocuSign, for example — the company found a way to simply and elegantly solve a niche problem for users with its software. This is something that sounds easy, but in reality, it means spending hours listening to the customer and tailoring your product accordingly.

SaaS needs to take a page out of the crypto playbook

By the time I joined Box in late 2012, the “consumerization of the enterprise” movement was well underway. The playbook was clear: The lessons and tactics from the rise of consumer apps — viral loops, social referrals, frictionless onboarding — could be distilled, packaged and ported over to enterprise.

And the promise was subversive — great products could galvanize a loyal user base and wrest free the fates of multimillion-dollar contracts from suited salespeople peddling unusable software behind closed doors.

While the consumerization of SaaS has taught us how to more effectively get in front of users, this next decade will be about how to properly incentivize them to do the necessary work to have the right product experience.

A decade later, this promise has largely proven true. The consumer playbook contributed to the meteoric rise of Slack, Zoom, Airtable and others, specifically around user acquisition and onboarding. They are beautiful products that are discovered from the bottom up, self-serve, free to start and pay as you grow.

But while this might seem like one of the best times to build a SaaS company, one look at Product Hunt might paint a different story. For every success story like Airtable, there are a dozen lookalikes employing the same consumer-inspired playbook that are getting drowned out.

And for any first-mover startup in a new category thinking they’re reaching escape velocity, there are a dozen copycats in YC waiting around the corner, complete with their beautifully designed apps, and the promise of being “blazingly fast and delightfully simple.”

Image Credits: Fika Ventures

Conventional wisdom suggests that many of these newcomer apps will fall short because they don’t clearly communicate their differentiation, or their signup process isn’t streamlined enough, or they have poor documentation and tutorial videos, or they haven’t courted the right influencers on Twitter, or just plain poor execution.

While some (or all) of these might be true on the individual app level, there is something bigger happening on the aggregate level, and it comes back to one insidious assumption carried over from the consumer playbook: the myth of frictionless onboarding.

The reality is that onboarding is never frictionless. In fact, it’s quite the opposite — it demands that the user uproot their old habits and switch to this new way of being or doing. Just like with a new fitness program, participants feel good after completing the workout, but it takes a lot of activation energy to start and hard work to get there. Similarly, it takes work on the user’s part to get results, and most apps expect users to do this work for free.

But in a crowded marketplace with infinite alternatives, the only way to capture and hold a user’s attention is to directly incentivize them to experience the product, not just be exposed to it. Today’s growth playbook overindexes on spending ad dollars (with diminishing returns) to get premium placement and eyeballs on Google, Facebook or Product Hunt, but very few have tried putting those dollars to work toward ensuring users are actually having the experience they are supposed to.

2019 subscription customer acquisition cost study. Image Credits: Profitwell

To do this, SaaS needs to take a page out of the crypto playbook. So while the past decade of the consumerization of SaaS has taught us how to more effectively get in front of users, this next decade will be about the cryptofication of SaaS and how to properly incentivize users to do the necessary work to have the right experience with your product.

Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

While Zoom gets all the attention, there were hundreds of free SaaS tools to help folks through the pandemic. Pluralsight ran a #FreeApril campaign, offering free access to its platform for all of April. Cloudflare made its Teams product free from March until September 1, 2020. GitHub went free for teams in April and slashed the price of its paid Team plan.

A selection of new free, free trial and low-priced offerings from leading SaaS companies. Image Credits: Kyle Poyar/OpenView.

The free products were aimed squarely at end users — whether it be a developer, individual marketer, sales rep or someone else at the edge of an organization. These end users were stuck at home during the pandemic, yet they desperately needed software to power their working lives.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them. Many end users want to jump straight into a product, no hassle or credit card or budget approval required.

After they’ve set up an account and customized it for their workflow, end users have essentially already made a purchase decision with their time — all without ever feeling like they were in an active buying cycle.

An end user-focused free offering became an essential SaaS survival strategy in 2020.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

Myth: A free offering will cannibalize paying customers

GoDaddy is a digital behemoth, known for being a ’90s-era pioneer in web domains as well as for their controversial Super Bowl ads. The company has steadily diversified into business software, now generating roughly $700 million in ARR from its business applications segment and reaching millions of paying customers. There are very few businesses that would see greater potential revenue cannibalization from launching a free product than GoDaddy.

But GoDaddy didn’t let fear stop them from testing freemium when lockdowns set in. Freemium started out as a small-scale experiment in spring 2020 for the websites and marketing product. GoDaddy has since increased the experiment to 50% of U.S. website traffic, with plans to scale to 100% of U.S. traffic and open availability to other markets in 2021.