There’s never been a more exciting time to invest in enterprise software companies. GGV Capital has invested in more than 100 of the fastest-growing, most innovative enterprise companies in the world — and we’re continually inspired by the visionary entrepreneurs building the next billion-dollar software companies. Last week, we had the great pleasure to co-host the 4th annual Evolving Enterprise conference alongside Silicon Valley Bank and Fenwick & West. The event brought together over 100 of the brightest software founders and leaders for a half-day of engaging discussions, interviews, and networking.
At Evolving Enterprise, founders and leaders from HashiCorp, Tray.io, Confluent, Workboard, and Handshake shared tactics from the trenches for successfully managing hyper-growth — from raising funding, to building go-to-market strategies, to supercharging sales, to scaling hiring. These companies have achieved remarkable success: hitting ARR of $100M or more, growing to many hundreds of employees, and raising hundreds of millions in venture financing between them.
Here are some of their tried-and-true tactics for growing your SaaS business.
How do you build a sales-driven culture? Execution and accountability. First, define what you expect certain roles to do, then, define how you measure success in those roles, and third, figure out how to hold people accountable for meeting these goals. — Erica Schultz, President Field Operations at Confluent
Marketing is twofold: messaging and math. It’s hard to find one head of marketing who is good at both those things, so you should figure out what’s more important to your company and hire for that role predominantly. Usually, for high-growth companies, it’s best to hire a messaging maven first, then beef up metrics-driven marketing, the math side, when sales are taking off. — Marc Holmes, VP of Marketing of HashiCorp
Professional services do play an important role at a software company, but it’s not just to generate a revenue stream. Professional services should deliver value to your customers and the success of the program should be measured by customer success, retention, and expansion metrics. — Erica Schultz, President Field Operations of Confluent
Take ownership and control of the metrics that define your business and its success. Ideally, you guide your team to them and guide investors to evaluate the business on truly material metrics. — Deidre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of WorkBoard
In the early days, we met a lot of investors who liked us but struggled with the idea, so I spent months reverse engineering the pitch process to understand the VC mindset. This helped the framing of the deck and success in seed-stage fundraising. — Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder of Tray.io
Be methodical about who you reach out to at each VC firm. The first person you meet matters a lot because you won’t later get rerouted to someone else. I identified four or five investors I really respected and made a spreadsheet of all the deals they’d done, looking for connections in their portfolios to see how Handshake would fit in. Then I built long-term relationships with these investors, meeting them quarterly. Each time, I told them what I would accomplish and then over-achieved against those goals by the next meeting. This convinced our investors in our ability to execute. — Garret Lord, CEO and co-founder of Handshake
We were specifically looking for a VC who was a GTM expert in early rounds, then in later rounds we looked for strategic investors who could help with certain growth challenges. Late-stage money is easy to get if you’ve met benchmarks, so decide carefully who would be truly active partners at this point. — Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder of Tray.io
As a founder, I’m always trying to hire myself out of my most current role. My goal is to bring in talented people who are smarter than me. My superpowers are development, customer evangelism, and supporting our developer community. Outside of those things, I want the best people to do everything else. — Armon Dadgar, CTO and co-founder of HashiCorp
We made a conscious decision to do all hiring internally, so we hired a head of talent early on and we’ve spent zero on headhunters. We finished 2018 with 68 people and now we have 228, so it was a huge undertaking, but having one head of talent hire every person has created a real sense of cohesion across the company. — Rich Waldron, CEO and co-founder of Tray.io
For your early hires, you need to find folks who want to win. The early team must be pioneers who like to figure things out and build, and the later team will be more about execution at scale. Hire the pirates first and the navy later. — Erica Schultz, President, Field Operations of Confluent
Early marketing hires are vital for open source companies because of the complexity that happens upfront in marketing to two groups: users and choosers. While trying to define a category, you’re also trying to engage a developer ecosystem, the users, to become your evangelists, and then get the choosers, the buyers inside the companies, to come round to your point of view. Early marketing hires are the quarterbacks on your team. — Marc Holmes, VP of Marketing of HashiCorp
Don’t expect overnight success. It took us three or four years to get 100,000 downloads and the first year we were essentially on life support. It has taken years and years to build a community of developers who became our advocates and supporters. In the first few years, Mitchell, my co-founder, did 350,000 miles a year flying around the country to meet with early advocates. Expect it to take two to three years for a software product to hit early critical mass, and you’ll only get there if you’re 100% focused on customers. — Armon Dadgar, Co-CTO and co-founder of HashiCorp
You have to change your thinking from a habit of scarcity and investing one quarter behind your proofs during the Seed and Series A stage to investing 3 quarters ahead in the Series B and C stages. Shifting gears from that scarcity mindset of trying to survive one more quarter to acceleration is hard — you have to be really intentional about it. — Deidre Paknad, CEO and co-founder of WorkBoard
We would like to thank our partners Silicon Valley Bank and Fenwick & West for helping make Evolving Enterprise possible. If you’re an entrepreneur in the enterprise space, please feel free to reach out to our investment team members Oren Yunger and Tiffany Luck. For more information about GGV Capital, visit www.ggvc.com.