Unbox Delight – An Insider for SaaS Startups from Leading Silicon Valley CIOs

SaaSBoomi Caravan kicked off this week, starting with a CIO Panel discussion on September 20th with leading SaaS CIOs from the valley. Carter Busse from Workato, Eric Tan from Coupa, Klarissa Marenitch from Hippo Insurance, and Prasad Ramakrishnan from Freshworks offered an insider perspective on their experiences of buying and using SaaS products, plus some invaluable advice for SaaS founders. Owned by Sanket Naik, Priya Rajan from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) hosted the show, keeping the interests of founders alive and kicking through the discussion. SVB graciously facilitated the day’s event in their auditorium.

And now into some action from the market and the day’s journey.

Technology spend is projected to total $4.5 trillion in 2022, an increase of 3% from 2021. Most companies today use over 250 SaaS applications with some teams using between 40 to 60 different applications for running day-to-day operations. CIOs have one of the most significant challenges in managing this large portfolio of applications, improving employee experience, creating adoption and managing change, and continuing to deliver enterprise value to business stakeholders.

On a related front, SaaS startups compete with several products to acclaim fame and value proposition. Founders fight hard to build a mature and scalable product that solves the business problem(s), offers a seamless engagement experience, and delivers a higher return on investment to customers – the race is always On – you slide, your competitors will glide, and take away your spot.

What should SaaS founders do to stay ahead in their game, to continue to serve their customers and clients? Here is what the leading Silicon Valley CIOs have to offer you ~ a customer’s perspective for SaaS startups.

What are the biggest challenges for CIOs?
– Adoption and change management costs run high.
– Improving employee experience is the key to your product’s success.
– Data is draining businesses. Getting data to the right people, in the least intrusive way, compliant and secure, and at the right time is a mammoth affair.
– Intelligence and insights to penetrate and sell in new markets are limited or unreliable.
– GTM strategies are often delayed or fail to take off.

What attributes do CIOs want from their SaaS product?
– Design for invisible experience and seamless engagement
– Knowledge of business and problem statement ~ don’t be a solution looking for a problem
– Supportability ~ don’t over promise
– Position a 1-year subscription ~ compete and stay ahead of the game to get the next year’s subscription
– Investors back the idea and are invested in the founders

What attributes of founders please CIOs?
– Are founders thinking about adoption and change management?
– How are founders approaching product market fit?
– Do founders Care? ~ honest and prepared to hold your client’s hand
– Founders always hustle hard, are they humble?
– Are founders prepared to sell?
– How do founders leverage relationships and their network?

What is the one piece of advice you would give to founders?
You only have one chance – make it count! Say what your product does and does not do ~ keep it simple.
Be humble ~ know your space, know your competition; don’t bad mouth anyone to promote your product’s competitive advantage.
Be honest about the timelines and feature expectations.
Be prepared to make a change and improve ~ build a cushion to accommodate client expectations.

What stage of company do you like to work with?
Reputation is key. Are you funded? Who are the investors? We love bootstrapping and appreciate founders who are innovating and building products through personal hardships.
Vision is exciting. Founders with a vision for a solid product have a purpose ~ doesn’t matter if you are small, if you can support that’s sufficient and good to start a working relationship.
Compliance ready, secure engagement. Get the security components out of the way ~ security is your entry ticket. Make security a part of the product performance feature ~ don’t make it an afterthought.

What customer base reference do you need? Should it be from your market?
The world is flatter today. Any market reference is fine, any client count is good ~ doesn’t matter which market, the product must be market fit and you should be able to support the service delivery.

Concluding Thoughts:
Applications with department buy-ins enjoy higher engagement rates than apps provisioned by IT departments. Find the right sponsor and buyer for your product and stay ready to respond to CIOs expectations ~ don’t see them as hurdles, rather build them as essential performance features of your product.

Don’t be afraid of selling to people who work for the CIOs office ~ directors and managers. Startups need promoters of their product and people who can better explain the product features (use cases) to business leaders (decision makers). Investors have the same expectations!

Build user communities and bring actual memorable experiences of how your customers are unboxing delight by using your product.

Thanks to the SaaSBoomi community leaders for organizing a splendid event – Avinash, Avi, Priya, and Vinod – no count of thanks is enough recognition for their ongoing relentless effort, support, and guidance. Our heart goes out to Rukmani from Wellbowls, who brought us unforgettable, delicious, food that remains in our memories as one of the best Indian meals!

To merrier times as we roll into the week and more insights, let the SaaSBoomi Caravan continue!

About the author

Rahul Arora

Founder & CEO, Rising Ahead
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