Collaboration is Key in Canada: 3 Takeaways from SAAS North 2017

By Sandra Thomson - Dec. 12, 2017

Recently, when I attended the SAAS North 2017 conference in Ottawa, I was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant the SaaS community is in Canada. I became even more proud to be a Canadian and not just because of the Toronto Raptors (#wethenorth) or how nice we all are.:)


Also, given that CaféX launched a SaaS product developed in Ottawa earlier this year - CaféX Spaces - I  wanted to find out how other start-ups could benefit from our innovative team collaboration software. And, to be completely honest, I also wanted to see if there was anything similar to it at the event. There were many great products being demonstrated (e.g., Hockeystick, Pagecloud, Pendo, etc.) solving customer challenges but CaféX Spaces was unique among the solutions at the conference. 

CaféX Spaces customers make collaboration easier by aggregating a given team’s shared files and linking existing tools in a single, secure location. Think of a Space as a private room in which only specified cohorts, contributors, and customers can post and review documents, communicate with each other over live video, audio and text chats, assign project tasks and monitor progress, and access any tool to which they link - all at a dedicated URL that can be opened and bookmarked within any browser. Feedback from visitors to our booth and fellow exhibitors alike was overwhelmingly positive so we were excited to hear that others saw the unique value of our collaboration workspace SaaS tool.  

Meanwhile, I also learned so much from listening to peers talk about their experiences, successes and failures in SaaS so here are 3 takeaways for those unable to attend:

#1: Collaborate with Customers to Achieve Product-Market Fit

Speakers from Shopify, Freshbooks, and Wishpond emphasized how aligning product offerings to market fit is critical to success. Spending the time up front to gain clarity on the ideal customer and their needs saves a lot of time and money downstream. Get marketing, sales, product management and customer success teams together to bring the voice of the customer to the table. Also, hire a user experience expert if you have to and make sure the distance to the front line is short for every employee.

Furthermore, keep in mind that product-market fit is a moving target. It’s always evolving and companies that don’t adapt can be left behind. Remember Blockbuster, the video rental company? Nobody wanted to pay late fees because they forgot to return a movie. Enter Netflix. And remember how you had to pay per text when messaging became an option? Eventually, the carriers listened to the customer, evolved and now texts are unlimited. 

#2: Collaborate with Finance on Long-Term Performance Metrics

As you can imagine there was a lot of talk about metrics and KPIs. While we all agree that metrics are important to run a successful SaaS business, focus on long-term KPIs. It’s easy to get lost in countless data points without knowing what success looks like. One speaker cited an example where they executed a resource-intensive marketing campaign that  generated a high number of leads but without a good conversion rate. Similarly, the freemium model is popular these days. But, how many companies are using cohort analysis to see patterns clearly across the customer life-cycle of a trial, rather than slicing across all customers blindly without accounting for the natural cycle that a customer undergoes?

Working with your Finance team to analyze Lifetime Value to Customer Acquisition Cost (LTV:CAC) by channel can provide valuable and actionable insights for a marketing team.  Spend marketing time and money on acquiring and retaining low touch customers with strong LTV potential. Lastly, implement a referral process. It doesn’t have to be complicated but it has to be close to the top of the priorities for sales and marketing. Just as it is important to get potential customer input to assess product-market fit, it is equally important for marketers to determine who their best customers are and to attract more that are similar.

#3: Collaborate with Women in Tech for Better Returns

About 30% of the speakers at the conference were women in leadership roles. These included Founders, CEOs, COOs, CMOs, Directors, Strategists, etc. Women such as Sukinder Singh Cassidy, founder of theBoardlist, inspired many of us in the audience that were looking for different perspectives on how to succeed in high tech companies with niche products. She also discussed evidence that gender diversity is a driver of improved business performance - the very reason why she founded  theBoardlist, which aims to get more women on tech boards. 

According to a recent report from MSCI World, companies with at least 3 women on their boards have achieved a 36% better return on equity since 2010 than those companies with fewer or no women on the board. Another interesting stat was that roughly 74% of private tech companies had no women on their boards which is a 5 point improvement from a year ago. Still, while companies appear to be headed in the right direction, this is an important takeaway worth sharing as companies consider team structure in 2018.

As with most conferences, it was refreshing and insightful to hear the 85+ speakers and hundreds of attendees share their successes and failures. Let’s continue to learn from each other, collaborate better together , and find even more collective success in 2018.