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Jason M. Lemkin is a 2x founder, 1x VC, and constant SaaS enthusiast.

He led or sourced the first VC investments in many leading enterprise/SaaS start-ups, Guidespark, Greenhouse.io, PipedriveAlgoliaTalkdesk, Parklet.co, RainforestQA, Salesloft, Avanoo, Perfect Pipeline, Logikcull, Automile, and more.  Collectively, these start-ups are worth in excess of one billion dollars.

He is also an advisor or smaller investor in Showpad, FrontApp, Influitive, BetterWorks, and other SaaS leaders. Jason has co-founded two successful start-ups selling to the enterprise.  Before SaaStr and VC investing, he was CEO and co-founder of EchoSign, the web’s most popular electronic signature service, from inception through its acquisition by Adobe Systems Inc.

He then served as Vice President, Web Services at Adobe, where he oversaw the growth of EchoSign and Adobe Document Services to $50,000,000 in ARR in 2012 and $100,000,000+ ARR in 2013.

Prior to EchoSign and Adobe, he co-founded one of the only successes in nanotechnology, NanoGram Devices, which was acquired for $50m just 13 months after founding.  The technology, built into implantable power cells, has gone on to help extend the lives of thousands.

He has no known hobbies.

You can follow him on Twitter: @jasonlnk

He will be live on Dec 6 starting at 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which he will answer as many questions as possible.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason, really great to have you doing an AMA on GrowthHackers. Thanks for making the time!

    My question is how important has your presence on Quora been to building the community on SaaStr? Do you know any other large communities that have grown via Quora?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      It's helped a lot, although by accident. I began writing blog posts when I was a VP at a F500 company, but blogging was harder there, so I began answering questions on Quora instead.

      Quora is key to the SaaStr Community, but I think the real reason it's a natural fit for the micro-topics I am passionate about. I've answered over 2,000 questions on Quora. While that sounds like a lot, I pick only the ones that are a "coffee break" for me -- the questions that I already think I can add some value to.

      By contrast, Medium has performed miserably for us.

      4 Share
  • MS

    Maria Samarina

    4 months ago #

    Investors prefer to fund male college elites. Stats: 97% of all venture funded startups have male CEOs, mostly white, from elite universities (Babson college study).

    Activists who fight for minority rights and women rights blame investors: "Investors do not fund women, there is a bias" etc.
    And the second version is the market is inefficient, or we have a market failure: investors don't have other choices in a current market since they are rational: venture investors don’t have enough information about entrepreneurs’ abilities and make initial decisions based on reputation of the university, personal connections, or previous employer.
    Lack of information => investors overpay for (let's say) Stanford grads.

    The question: What you think, why the statistics are so sad? Why dont (more) investors fund females and founders from 2nd tier universities (only 14% get funded comparing to elite colleges 78%)?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      It's a complex and real issue, and I'm not sure I have all the answers.

      But I'll share some insights.

      First, there are definitely large gender-biases in VC firms. They may not be intentional, but many comments you hear are deeply troubling. This is also true at many start-ups.

      To some extent, I think things are "better" with the next generation, but not as much as we might hope. I still hear both subtle and overt sexist comments in particular that make my spine stand up. All the time. From both VCs and CEOs.

      To some further extent, VCs at least at trying to overcompensate -- but maybe in insufficient ways. It may well be the case that if you have at least some traction, it's "easier" to get a non-qualified VC meeting if you aren't a white male, in some ways. (I've heard many troubling comments from WM founders complaining about this.) Getting in the door is important. But looking further is what really matters. Looking outside your box is what is important.

      I wish I had perfect answers. There is a lot of bias and sexism in VC. The good news is, just a few years behind closed doors this might have even been seen as "acceptable". Just a few years ago, I heard horrific comments. Today, there is no scenario where this is acceptable. The bias is still there. But I don't think the VC version of "locker room" talk is acceptable anymore.

      2 Share
  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    3 months ago #

    Hey Jason - stoked to have you on!

    Would you be willing to share the top 3 things you/your team do/have done that year over year result in either:
    a. An increase in paying attendees to the SaaStr conference
    b. An increase in how much attendees pay to attend

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      Attendees:

      '15 (a hack): 800 day (max - hit Fire Marshall limit) + 800 for after party, 1 day
      '16 (planned, but no full-time team): 5000 nominal, but ~3X00 on site, 3 days
      '17: currently on track for >2x '16, will hit Fire Marshall limits like '16 at Bill Graham

      Ok so what did we do?

      Well, in '15 the first time all I did was put the post up on SaaStr.com, and email a few folks.

      In '16, we began to build an email list. It had ~5,000 folks we could use to sell tickets. In '16, the email list, plus then Twitter, became the top trackable source of attendees.

      In '17, we now have 25,000+ on our lists, and 50,000+ total followers on Twitter. Together, these are out top trackable source of attendees. Since both of these are far larger than in '16, it makes sense the event has grown 2x.

      Having said that, to some extent, it's a mystery. We get millions of views on Quora, but haven't sold a single ticket from it. We have 30,000 subscribers in LinkedIn, but not sure it's sold a single ticket.

      And ... importantly ... the blog itself doesn't seem to sell very many tickets, even though it was the source of 90%+ of them in '15. I don't know why this is. It may be because we have so much more content on the blog. It may be because of how social media has changed the last few years. Even though we have much more SaaStr.com total blog traffic than 2 years ago ... we have probably no more direct-to-main-URL-traffic ...

      ...

      In terms of pricing for tickets, our goal is simply to price at cost. The tickets on average for '17 are about the same as '16 (even though our per-attendee cost has gone up to almost $1000). '15 was cheaper but it was a one-day event. Events in San Francisco are expensive, and frustratingly, have dis-economies of scale. The larger the event, the >higher< the per attendee cost!!

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        3 months ago #

        What was it that made you consider making the the conference into a multi-day event?

  • MS

    Mark Savchuk

    3 months ago #

    Hello Jason,

    I want to ask a question about B2C startups.

    Say you've created a product. It's ready to be shipped. You launch on ProductHunt - you go live, you start pitching the journalists. What else can you do to generate the "Buzz"?

    What other ways are there to generate traffic or leads in the first 6 month for a B2C startup?

    Thanks,
    Mark

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      Who knows.

      What I mean is, content marketing is a black box.

      Try everything. And most importantly, do what you believe in.

      When I launched EchoSign, I knew nothing about PR or content. But. I did this on launch day, and it worked: https://techcrunch.com/2006/01/02/echosign-solves-signature-page-woes/

      What I knew how to do was hustle. So I did that.

      But our blog was terrible, our content was terrible, even our marketing site was B- at best.

      Fast forward to today, you might think I am "good" at content marketing. But really, I'm doing again what I'm passionate about.

      The content marketing we've done for SaaStr that is rote and inauthentic doesn't work.

  • HQ

    Hila Qu

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    "He has no known hobbies":) Anything we should take away from that?

    My question might be a bit too broad, but I am curious about what is your thought on the SaaS software for a specific vertical ? In which case do they make more sense, in which case they don't?

    Another broad question, from your perspective, do you see any major trends happening in SaaS industry, which most people haven't realized yet?

    Thanks!
    Hila

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      I believe "no known hobbies" in common in many intense founders. Your start-up takes it all out of you.

      In terms of SaaS verticals, now is the time. Veeva was the first next-gen success we saw -- $7b in market cap on $3m in VC money. But now is the time for an ERP for every vertical. It's already happening.

      2 Share
  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    3 months ago #

    Bonjour Jason,

    Thank you for doing this AMA.

    1) Do you think nanotechnology will change social networking as we know it today?
    2) Do you envision future nanotech hardware to adapt their form factor according to the application launched?
    3) In twenty years from now will native mobile operating systems still be around or can we expect new AI platforms to overtake them in the mobile space?

    Merci!

  • TS

    Terence Strong

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason:

    Thanks for doing this!

    What are the key things a startup should focus on when trying to scale a B2C Saas company from $10KMRR to $100kMRR?

    Also what is an acceptable churn rate for a B2C Saas company and what is an acceptable monthly referral rate ?

    Thanks,

    Terence

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      The best way to get from $10k MRR to $100k MRR is almost always to >double down on what is working<.

      Once you have 100+ customers, you have an organic pattern. Customers 101-1000 will look a lot like the first 100 in terms of composition, industry, etc. Drive deal sizes up. Improve the product. Get better at upsells.

      But after 100 customers, don't try to sell into segments where you have no traction. The easiest way to get to 200, 300, 400 customers is to get better at what you learned on customers 1-100.

      9 Share
  • KS

    Kevin Stock

    3 months ago #

    My co-founder and I are considering moving our startup from the midwest to SF (Q3 of 2018), curious if the SaaStr CSS is mainly for founding team or also growing team (10-30 employees)? Thanks Jason!

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      It could be a good fit -- especially now. 30 is too much. But we can handle a big chunk of it. Email jayne at saastrinc dot com asap

      The "moving from midwest" (or wherever) is the exact type of co we want in the CSS

  • SA

    Shaker A

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for doing this!

    1)Can you talk about some of the challenges of scaling businesses and how you've overcome them?

    2)What are the most important lessons you've learned in your career?

    3) In your opinion what are things early stage startups have to do to not only survive, but thrive? Conversely what do you see startups messing up that they can't afford to, and how do they fix them?

    Thanks

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      The most important lessons I've learned in my career is not to quit.

      Both of my start-ups were doomed to failure. The first, every scientist and person on the planet said was impossible. We didn't quit. We sold for $50m 12.5m months later.

      The second time, EchoSign, everyone checked out when we didn't achieve enough traction in Year 1, and even, until the end of Year 2. I might have liked to check out. But I couldn't.

      Never quit. Failing Fast is for suckers.

      Commit for 24 months to your first paying customers. To your MSP. Not 12 months, not a few months.

      And commit for 7-10 years to Get Big.

  • AA

    Aldin A

    3 months ago #

    Hey Jason,

    Great to have you here.

    1)What, in your opinion, are the top qualities founders need to succeed?

    2)How do you look at competition, specifically when you're going up against bigger, and better-funded competitors? How does that affect your strategic plan, if it does at all? What is your mindset when you go to compete against the 800-pound gorillas in your space?

    Thanks

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      The key to competition is understanding your relative strengths.

      The biggest companies, if they want, can compete in every segment. They can employ Dominant-Dominant strategy, where they compete even in segments where they rarely win. They can buy out competitive contracts and lose money on them. You can't. More on that here: https://www.saastr.com/why-competition-is-so-bitter-in-saas-oligopolies-and-dominant-strategy-equilibriums/

      But.

      If anyone is buying your product instead of the competition. Then. There is something you are 10x better than them at.

      Do that until $10m ARR. What you are better at. After $10m ARR, then, you can start to enter parts of the market where you are less competitive.

      After $5m-$10m ARR, thus, your win rates should start to go >down<. And that's good.

      But until a few million in ARR, focus on where you have a competitive advantage.

      Usually that can at least get you to $2m-$3m in ARR.

  • JD

    James Dunn

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason - thanks for spending time with us today.

    SaaStr has come a long way since the "humble WP blog". We can all see what it's become but it was likely not a straight line getting from there to here.

    a. Was it always your goal to grow that blog into something that was much more? If yes, what was your thinking then into what it might evolve into?

    b. Could you talk about your top 2-3 biggest hurdles encountered and/or insights you gleaned making SaaStr into what it is today?

    c. Given where it is now, what do you think is the next step in the evolution of SaaStr?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      a. The goal was not to build it into anything. The goal was catharsis, and hopefully, to remain relevant. I sold just as we were crossing $1m in MRR/$12m in ARR. The business only accelerated after that. I wanted to share my learnings and mistakes, and hopefully, not be forgotten as "a guy that sold".

      I never, ever, never thought I'd get even 1/1000th of the audience we had. I though there might be 10-20 folks like me out there, that the content would resonate with.

      b. No budget hurdles, but "SaaStr Inc" in a $7m+ business growing quickly, and I've bootstrapped it. We'd be growing faster with outside capital, just like a SaaS start-up. But the goal isn't to make money, so.

      c. No idea, but the new CoSellingSpace.com is a start. Hoping this will be the hub of the next batch of great start-ups in the Bay Area, not just the ones here now, but also the ones coming here.

  • KB

    kuvinash bachu

    3 months ago #

    From your experience what are the top qualities that the best entrepreneurs embody?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      They never quit (see above)

      They can recruit

      and

      They can see the future.

      All 3? You have something.

      3 Share
  • RB

    Ry B

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for doing this AMA!

    1)How do you look at hiring? Can you talk about some of the mistakes you've made hiring (and also seen others make)? What have you learned about hiring A+ talents?

    2)What are traits a manager needs to bring out the best in their employees?How did you go about empowering employees at the companies you've founded?

    Thanks

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      Top mistakes in hiring:

      #1: Logo Chasing. It's better until you have a brand yourself, to hire from the #2 or #3 or #4 in a space, that VP or Director or rep that crushed it with a >worse< product, than hire someone from Salesforce, Box, etc. that had the benefit of a huge brand. Later, when you do have that brand. Hire folks from Salesforce and Box :)

      #2: Hiring Someone You Wouldn't Work For. Yes, I know you know "nothing" about sales. Even though you closed the first 30 customers yourself :) But don't hire him because He Knows Sales. If your gut says you wouldn't work for him. No one else any good will want to, either.

      #3. A Stretch Too Far. Stretch VPs are better than Washed Up VPs. But they have to have the proven ability to build at least a small team.

      2 Share
  • SK

    S Kodial

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason

    Have you ever learned something from the companies you've advised over time that you've been able to apply to how you run and grow your business? If yes, could you talk more about the top 1-3 things those might be?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      1. The best founders always find a way, in SaaS at least.

      2. You can't recruit in parallel. You have to spend at least 20% of your time recruiting. Always. Poor recruiters don't win. It's hard. After $2m in ARR, especially, you have to recruit VPs in parallel.

      3. The best startups can come from anywhere. I've invested in amazing first-time founders from Portugal, London, Paris, Sweden, Belgium, and more. Of all backgrounds. >> Great founders are all the same <<. They seem different. But they all have the same insane commitment to building a Unicorn. Male, female, Swedish, Antarctican, whatever. But if the background isn't Cookie Cutter -- look harder. Check your biases.

      3 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        3 months ago #

        Beyond bias, what do you think are the biggest challenges/advantages when starting a B2B SaaS company elsewhere in the world compared to Silicon Valley?

  • DH

    Dani Hart

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Very excited to have someone with your background here today!

    You've been part of quite a number of successful companies and I'd love to hear more about what makes a successful growth culture. Are there any attributes of companies that have done it better than others? What do you think are the most important attributes of successful teams?

    Looking forward to learning more.

    Cheers,
    Dani

  • JM

    Jason Meresman

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for today's AMA! I noticed SaaStr is using Flipboard to curate your News section. Is there a reason you went with a third party like Flipboard vs. building and hosting your own news curation? Were there any planned or accidental benefits that came from this decision?

    Jason

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      It was easily to implement in 60 seconds since I already use Flipboard every day.

      If you have something better than is as easy to deploy, please lmk.

      No one really reads it in this format (Web Flipboard) -- and I think it's great.

    • JM

      Jason Meresman

      3 months ago #

      Thanks Jason!

  • LT

    Luis Toro

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Thanks for taking the time to do the AMA! Say you have a unified SaaS solution that addresses in one place three distinct jobs to be done… should one wait until all three are ready enough for early viable segment(s) since that is the larger more compelling value proposition? Or, should one test with one that is ready and stage the rollout of the others when enough customer input/testing is done?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      It's hard to know when to ship a Crummy Product.

      If you wait too long, you don't get the feedback early enough.

      I wish I had a magic answer. We launched EchoSign 3 months too early. It was a mistake, and I pushed the team to do it over their objections. It needed 3 more months in the over.

      And.

      I still make this mistake again and again :)

      I think the key is be honest. Be honest with the prospects and customers where you are.

      I met last night with the CEO of a great YC company I angel invested in, GetBirdly. They have a new product that automates providing engineer manager feedback in Slack. It is wicked cool. But it won't be truly an MSP until mid-January.

      I would have waited. But the CEO has already closed several customers. The key was explaining exactly where they are today on the product. Then, the prospects and customers go on the journey with you. And there are no surprises in the gaps in the product.

  • AC

    Arthur Chan

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason,

    Hoping we could get a little tactical in SaaS metrics.

    For B2B companies where sales cycles (including marketing) can run for many periods, how do you determine appropriate CAC? Let's say it takes 6-months to go from Lead to Won, would a CAC amount for a given month be the last 6-months of Sales and Marketing Costs calculated against number of deals closed in that same 6-month period?

    Is the idea of CAC to get a relative measure rather than attribute every dollar spent to a deal.

    In high ACV, low volume, it seems more appropriate to calculate CAC against ACV rather than per customer. In your experience, is this standard practice?

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!
    Arthur

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      CAC is not as clearly defined a metric as one might think :)

      In any event, we are getting better at better at measuring CAC against the true lifetime value of a customer. That's what matters. So the better you can get at this, the more effectively and efficiently you can deploy capital here

  • JP

    John Phamvan

    3 months ago #

    What is the most important metric that you focus on for an early stage SaaS investment versus a later round SaaS investment. Is it MRR growth rate in both cases or is there another KPI that's more important for an early stage SaaS investment?

  • JF

    Javier Feldman

    3 months ago #

    Hi Jason, it's great to have you here today!

    What questions should founders ask Angels & VC investors early on to see if there is a good fit?

    Thanks!

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      Well, first all money is green. If you only have one offer, and you >need< the money, take it :)

      But assuming you have options, what's more important in an early investor?

      My ranking:

      1. Who you can trust.
      2. Who can help you raise the next round.
      3. Who can help you recruit and promote you.

      Rank them that way.

      Trust your gut, but also, talk to 2-3 founders they've invested in. They'll tell you.

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    3 months ago #

    A few more Qs for you around investing and startups - while we still have you :)....

    a. What's the number one thing a pitching entrepreneur can do to screw up a pitch so that you don't end up investing?

    b. If you could tell a Series A+ company to focus on one area of growth (onboarding, retention, acquisition, virality, etc.), what would it be?

    c. From your experience investing in startups...what is the estimated percentage of startups that fail who reach product market fit? Also what caused their failure?

    d. What are the three biggest mistakes you see early stage SaaS entrepreneurs make more often than not?

    • JL

      Jason M. Lemkin

      3 months ago #

      a. not being honest / transparent / using fake metrics. being late.

      b. hire great VPs. try harder here. nothing else really matters after $2m+ ARR. the hacks stop scaling.

      c. none if the founders are truly great and it's real software (70%+ gross margin) with happy customers / high NPS.

      d. logo hunting. too cheap when go to hire VPS. too slow to hire VPS. hire folks that are too junior.

  • BC

    Bob Cavezza

    3 months ago #

    Jason - thanks for doing this!

    Any tips on finding first customers and how founders typically screw this up?

  • LP

    Laxman Papineni

    3 months ago #

    According to you, what is the best way to test your SAAS idea? before you actually start building it.

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