Last week I talked about emotional journeys. Today I want to talk about a different type of journey. One of my absolute favorite things about being in the SaaS world is the sheer audacity it takes to go from literally an idea to a large (potentially public) company in a matter of years. Its literally an improbable/impossible journey. Yet so many companies make it! Think about this: Slack was at one point a totally different company with a product that wasn’t growing and were like hey we have this other idea that we kinda like and now its a worldwide phenomenon in just a few years. Or the fact that Box started as 4 Seattle Area teenage friends that were like hey I think online file sharing is the wave of the future, lets email Mark Cuban and see if he agrees plus is willing to give us some money to try it out.
Take a step back and think about how mind blowing that is. America is a country where initiative and ideas can turn into massive value in just a short period of time. Obviously its not easy and requires boat loads of other peoples (VC usually) money but its still remarkable. The graph here (credit to Russ Thau for the visual) shows a handful of companies that went from 0 to $100MM in ARR. $100MM being significant because that when SaaS companies are generally “IPO Viable”. Look at that! From an idea to $100MM in annual recurring revenue in a short burst of time. Wow, right?!
A few other things that always strike me when I look at this chart:
- At $0 we are talking about a small group of people, sometimes just 1 person, with an idea. This is Ted Blosser learning how to code in his spare time to make a prototype, then meeting with Arsh Mand in a coffee shop on the peninsula to see if he was down with giving it a go. The seedlings of the SaaS world are littered with stories like that. A person or people saying “I have an idea and I’m going to put my time and effort into seeing if its worth something”
- Those up and to the right lines look kinda simple and easy on a graph, but they are full of tireless meetings, hours on the phone and in front of a computer screen. Pitching investors, pitching customers, writing code, making mistakes and learning. It’s hard work building something from an idea.
- On that line from $0 to $100 becomes a whole group of humans driving in the same direction. All along the way, new people being convinced this is a good idea then dedicating their time and efforts towards making it a reality. Recruiting for these hyper growth companies isn’t easy. I’ve managed teams that have recruited, interviewed and onboarded ~ 100 new employees in less than 6 months. To hire that many people, you have to recruit and interview multiples more, sometimes 4x. Not only do you have to talk to that many people but you also have to align with them on the vision of the future. They have to believe this is a real thing worth their time. Then you have to train them, coach them and provide meaningful career paths so they stay and continue to help you recruit even more people!
- These journeys from idea to repeatable, scalable ARR are arduous. They are full of heartbreak and disappointment. People you cared about and contributed in a meaningful way to the company will leave. You have to replace them. Products fail. There are outages. There are MANY competitors coming after you for your lunch. There are doubters. You have to raise new money every 18 months to make it!
The journey is real and stressful and manic inducing but also incredibly exciting to me! I wouldn’t want to be in any other type of business.
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