Last week, I had the fortunate experience to attend the second Saastr Annual 2016 conference. The conference is dedicated to helping Software-as-a-Service companies make better products, achieve growth, and increase sales. It’s an energetic gathering of talented people, all sharing really great ideas.
In that spirit of sharing, below are three things I found particularly insightful from the keynote speakers, plus three takeaways from the conference experience that helped me make the most of my time there.
Key takeaways from the presentations
Crafting a strong team requires fluidity.
Kirsten Helvey, COO of Cornerstone onDemand, gave a phenomenal talk about scaling to 1,500 employees quickly. She gave a candid and humble account of her own experience. At Cornerstone, for example, some employees have had 4-5 different jobs over their tenure at the company, which blew my mind. If you have people in your organization who are dedicated and perform well, think about their potential for other roles that play to their strengths. This keeps good people at your company and makes them better.
Forget an MBA, get a degree in psychology.
Kirsten also suggested MBAs are useless compared to psychology degrees, with which I wholeheartedly agree. The ability to feel out a room, connect with people and exhibit a high level of emotional intelligence is way more valuable than any accreditation. Being able to truly motivate and inspire people will not only breed loyalty, but also develop a workforce that knows how to overcome challenges.
Experience can be stifling.
People tend to think that more experience leads to better decisions and more lucrative organizations. Keith Rabois, former PayPal mafioso and Square COO, brought up the concept that experience can sometimes be dangerous because it blinds us to new and exciting ideas. Instead of looking to pursue new things, we may be quick to discard them as nonsensical. It’s critical to ensure that what we’ve learned doesn’t stymie our ability to innovate.
How to get the most out of the Saastr Annual conference
Don’t underestimate the power of the app.
Saastr worked with DoubleDutch to create an official app for the Saastr Annual. As soon as I found out there was an app, I was intrigued to see how I could interact with other conference attendees. I found that not only did the app work very well, but there were hundreds of people actually using it! I immediately began to post comments, questions and even selfies (felt compelled) that cultivated my own sense of community. It was amazing.
Don’t network. Meet people.
If you’re going to a conference to “network,” e.g. shake a hundred hands, stuff your pockets with business cards, forget names and fake smile your face off, you’re doing it wrong. At Saastr, I focused on meeting a handful of people and learning about their companies, why they were at Saastr, what current issues they were facing, and if there was any way we could work together—or at least grab a drink when we’re in each other’s cities. Taking this approach helped me walk away with more than a dozen of potential prospects, and more importantly, a handful of people I’d actually call my friends.
You get out exactly what you put in.
If I attended a dozen talks at Saastr and never interacted with anyone, I still would have walked away with a lot of value. But taking the time and initiative to meet people, use the app, and attend the happy hours drastically enhanced my own experience and increased the knowledge, prospects, and friends I walked away with. Don’t be afraid to attend the random talk that may be outside your “scope of interest.” And, most importantly, have fun. You’ll get much more than your ticket’s cost out of it, guaranteed.
With all of the talk about devaluations, a potential bubble and an emergence of new (sometimes strange?) companies, it’s an extremely exciting time to be in SaaS. The sense of community is strong and we’re in a place similar to the early 1990s: we’re not exactly sure where all of this will go, but we have the ability to make a positive impact on the world. The time is now.