As with everything, SaaSBoomi Annual 2023 preparations started for me around the end of November, with a call from Avinash asking if I’d like to volunteer to steer the logistics of the conference. None of us, including Avi, had the slightest sense that it was going to be a giant conference. From 350-odd participants in 2022, we jumped to ~1100 in 2023. Everyone in SaaS from everywhere was in Madras, all at once. Even MS Dhoni paced the floor at Leela catching a glimpse of the phenomenon.
2023 Annual is one where we experience the ‘expand’ part of ‘land and expand’ up close.
Talking of MSD, Ashwini who leads the diversity initiative for SaaSBoomi knocked it out of the stadium. One of the highlights for me was the luncheon with a room full of women founders. The thoughtfully curated luncheon allowed for the program team of SaaSBoomi, volunteers, and women founders to have meaningful interactions and more importantly, follow-throughs. A few women leaders will lead Indian SaaS and that luncheon would have started the movement, looking back.
In Chennai, when it rains, it pours. I am not referring to the rains that moved the dinner indoors, but the sixers that Rakesh Patel knocked out with his SEO session. Until then, standing ovations were reserved for the ‘bare-it-all’ coaching Girish would give every year to the smitten founders that followed him. Rakesh played it to the gallery and we were all too indulgent and throwing the balls back at him.
80% of the crowd had come to SaaSBoomi Annual for the first time. That’s an 80% new audience acquisition milestone for the late-night show hosted by Vinod and Ashish. Sirs, you have a glorious hit on your hands, should you decide to host such a show even if we count only fans from the SaaS crowd.
I heard Pallav Nadani was there too but I hardly saw him. He probably was in spirited conversations. Pallav, I wake up early. I should join the 4 AM existential conversations. Your winding down energy will still be better than my rested brain, I am told.
See, beyond the sessions, what makes SaaSBoomi tick, is the rubbing of shoulders over a roast session and long conversations that lead to the dawn. Everyone is accessible and willing to have a chat — without judging or condescending. Everyone pays it forward. Everyone is on a play date for those two days.
I thoroughly enjoyed many sessions. The SEO session, the McKinsey report, the PLG playbook, the product marketing deep-dive (ahem!), and the M&A sessions were my favorites. I missed some really good ones though. Talking of the M&A session, a big shout out to Shruti Kapoor for being the first women-founder-led SaaS exit. Also, a whole lot of credit to Nishanth Malhotra, and Shruti Kapoor for anchoring the M&A clinic. The pilot was successful and we will do more of it.
In SaaSBoomi this year, we did several experiments. The M&A clinic was one. We put out networking badges. The registration workflow was meticulously designed. The ‘triple-A’ team of Ankit Dudhwewala, Abhishek Bhallab, and Anirudh Gopinath had to double up as benevolent bouncers who were later all too keen to take the event to everyone we could physically accommodate. We finally had >1140 people attending. The Adalaj stepwell in Gujarat that Rakesh Bhai and Ankit Bhai took us around to, also set the tone for how we would like to welcome guests to the city.
So we planned a heritage walk at the unholy hour of 6 AM. Yet, it was embraced better than anyone on the volunteer team could have imagined. So much so that, we did a follow-on walk the next day to another part of the city. We highlighted a few promising, upcoming SaaS companies through the SaaS Pilot. The pilot is ready to move to production mode, thanks to how many meaningful interactions the participants got out of the pilot.
Personally, for me, there were some lessons for how to do it better next time. We need a stadium to accommodate the people. There is a new one in town, are we getting it? I thought the times are tough and we need a lot of motivation. Turns out, the best motivator is people who have been there and done that showing how it is done. Founders are innately positive. As many experienced founders said, if you are under $5M MRR, the market conditions do not matter. The appetite to learn and share was incredible.
We also need to acknowledge that we are maturing as an ecosystem. That means separate all-day-long tracks for different stages of companies. We need to do more ‘hands-on’ workshops. We need more playbook reveals.
I hear the swag, especially, the mug was a hit. I did unfair coercing to get my way around it, with Avinash. So it better be good :).
During the run-up to the event, we had several weekends of prep motions. We huddled to execute all these weeks and have emerged with strong bonds – enough to make the coming year’s planning and execution smooth sailing. Did you know Chennai has a vibrant surfing scene? Yet we have not done events in the waters. What say, Avi? It was inspirational to see how many volunteers defied sleep cycles, personal battles, and ego – all because of the common cause of making India, the SaaS nation.
As someone who naturally gravitates towards community-building, what makes SaaSBoomi special is a common purpose (Making India a trillion-dollar SaaS megalith) framed as a selfless movement (Pay it forward), carried forward with religious fervor.
My religion is food. Varun Shoor put this well. The standard of sambar set by Ratna cafe and the podi uthappam from Murugan Idly is set so high that he could never go back to accepting mediocre South Indian fare. Isn’t it the same with SaaSBoomi? Varun set the bar for me when it comes to product marketing. Hopefully, I set the bar for someone who crosses paths with me. As we come together as a community, we elevate each other. SaaSBoomi Annual is where we lose every identity except the dual identity of being a giver or a learner — while feeling safely vulnerable.