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SaaStr Annual 2017 Recap

February 24, 2017

Two weeks ago, Todd Gardner and I attended the SaaStr Annual conference in San Francisco. This is the SaaS-business-model-specific conference put on by serial SaaS entrepreneur and VC Jason Lemkin. This was the third year of the event and we’ve gone every year. Below are our takeaways from it:

  1. It is undeniably the largest SaaS-specific conference out there, and it continues to grow. The first year there were around 700 people, last year the tally was close to 3,000 and the number being thrown around this year was 10,000. While it didn’t feel quite like 10,000, there were still a ton of people and the number of days and talk tracks has increased steadily as well. While it was initially CEO-focused, it now has full tracks on marketing, sales and customer success, and even a couple tech-oriented sessions. It is good and you should go. Maybe not every year, but you and your executive team should check it out at least every couple of years (it provided us with a great opportunity to get all of our portfolio companies together for a happy hour, which was fun). The speakers are all top-notch entrepreneurs, operators and investors, and even though it’s an event with x,000 attendees, the ‘talk show’ format (as opposed to presentations/slides) makes for very candid conversations on compelling topics. It is held in San Francisco, and the ‘startup,’ software, and financing energy in the city is real.  If your company is not located in the Bay Area, it’s a good opportunity for you and your management team to experience some of that energy.
  2. However, it’s in San Francisco, and the whole event is a little unicorn-y. Although, it felt a little less ‘aspirational’ than the previous years. I don’t know if that’s an indication of the macro environment, or the conference growing and deepening its content. The sessions, while still steeped in ‘how to build a $1 billion business,’ offered more tactical advice and real-world examples of challenges this year compared to previous years:
    • The CEO of Zendesk told the story of waiting for a call from a VC to offer his next round of funding the week Lehman failed in 2008. He literally sat by the phone in his hotel waiting for a call that never came. (It was the same tiny mid-century hotel I stayed in for the conference!)
    • Josh James, CEO of Omniture and Domo, told an incredibly candid and recent/on-going story of a simple management execution misstep (they literally screwed up the excel formula for sales quotas in their budget) that caused three quarters of missed sales.
  3. There is no end in sight for the software industry. In fact, there are now entire businesses built around providing tools to companies to build software faster and easier – Amazon Web Services, Docker, Chef, Heroku, not to mention CRM and marketing automation tools. With a credit card, you can subscribe to a couple services and begin writing, shipping, marketing, and selling to customers in virtually no time.  There were probably 30-40 sponsors, almost all of whom are SaaS companies themselves, looking to sell to the audience of SaaS companies.
  4. Artificial Intelligence is the new hotness. It’s clear that it is still early days here: it feels a bit like 1999 and ‘.com’ where ‘.ai’ (or including AI in your pitch deck) immediately gets you funded, but it’s also clear that this is real and impactful. It’s something you should keep an eye on and decide if it can benefit your product. If so, then determine whether to build in-house or leverage something like IBM’s Watson or another vendor.

Rob Belcher

Managing Director, SaaS Capital

SaaS Capital® pioneered alternative lending to SaaS. Since 2007 we have spoken to thousands of companies, reviewed hundreds of financials, and funded 80+ companies. We can make quick decisions. The typical time from first “hello” to funding is just 5 weeks. Learn more about our philosophy.

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