Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt.
There’s a question many local businesses face as they scale: how can you get a foothold in the world’s most important market? There is a way into the US, and it is beautifully Kiwi. It involves chipping in to a shared space called the Kiwi Landing Pad.
It has grown over the years, and the global community manager and glue of the organisation is Sian Simpson. Simon talked to Sian from the premier SaaS event SaaStr, where she is with a Kiwi contingent. Simon talked to her via Skype, so please excuse any audio quality issues.
Tell us about what’s happening at SaaStr. What is it and tell us a little bit about the role that you have there?
SaaStr was started by a man called Jason Lemkin who sold his second start-up to Adobe in around 2011. He had a non-compete so he wasn’t allowed to blog – or maybe it was like company policy that you weren’t meant to say anything on social media or in blogs. Quora was excluded in this company mandate, or communications policy, so he just started answering all of these founder’s questions on Quora. He ended up answering over 2000 questions.
Once he left that company he thought, ‘oh, maybe I’ll turn these answers into a blog and the blog started getting seven views a day. Then something cool happened, he started getting a cult-like following. Fast forward a couple of years, and they started getting three million views a month which is a lot. Right about the time that I met them, they were doing an experiment to see if they could get all of their community in a room to do a conference.
They put this conference together in 2015 and they invited all of their friends, and there was 1000 people there. I guess what the speakers say about him is that he has a really profound way of distilling SaaS metrics, and how to grow a SaaS business – having done it twice – in a way that people understand it. I guess that’s why people do follow him and like him.
Fast forward to today, they did the conference last year and there were 5000 people. Now they’re doing it this year to 10,000 people. I’m in the Bill Graham Center right now and there’s so much going on. They’ve got four stages, they’re just doing lunch with the VCs now upstairs where it’s like four rooms where VCs from around the US pitch to start-ups.
That’s a cool flip
So SaaStr is a blog, with phenomenal content, a 70million dollar fund to invest in start-ups from the community, specifically focused on SaaS. And they launched a co-working space for the SaaS companies from the community who need to have $8k MRR (monthly-recurring-revenue). It’s going really well, for me it’s exciting to see the team grow. It’s a very small team, last year it was just Jason and Gretchen, there’s about six or seven full-time now and a handful of contractors that work with them regularly.
I started out with quite an intense admin career from when I was about 17-20. I worked for Vodafone for about three and a half years and got to a point where I was like, ‘oh, this is all I’ve got to learn in admin and I’m just going to move up in pay grade and not learn too much more’. I decided that I wanted to transition into a digital marketing career. At that time I happened to meet Tim Norton from 90 Seconds who was like, ‘do you want to search engine optimise 500 videos for me?’ I was like, sure. I didn’t know anything about SEO but I gave it a go.
My videos started ranking, like #1 in New Zealand, and I thought ‘either I’m really good or New Zealand is really bad’. It landed somewhere in between. I ended up optimising all these videos, putting them on social media. It was basically learning the opposite of film school, learning what makes good content, what are people interested in, how do you structure videos well, how do you develop a storyboard and how do you run events?
So then, when I moved to San Francisco, I actually wanted to go to conferences for the Kiwi Landing Pad but I couldn’t afford them because they were like $2000. So I’d ring them and I’d be like, ‘Hey, can I film this for free and give you content?’ And then they were like, so you want to come to our conference for free and give us content? And I so that kind of turned into me being known as a video girl in San Francisco, and then I meet SaaStr. The first thing Jason ever said to me was, “what are you doing in my green room?” and I was like, ‘oh I do all these videos and I interview all these speakers.’ And he said, “No-one’s going to interview with you” and I was like, ‘Ok.’ He came back at lunchtime and I had done a live edit on the fly, so I showed it to him and it was like this fully produced live edit of the event with speaker interviews and he said ‘Wow this is fantastic! I’ve never seen anything like it!’ and got really excited.
Fast-forward to today and I have a team of 14 people working for me. We have two green rooms running for all the speaker interviews. And every time one of the keynote speakers goes on stage they are announced with a hero video which is kind of like a compilation of their life and what they care about and I have to choose the soundtrack to their life which is kind of daunting. So those videos have been really well received and it’s really excited to see your work go up on these 30 foot screens.
In front of a room full of 10,000 people.
Yeah. So there’s around ten thousand people who see your work and what’s awesome is the speakers come back stage. For example, Dustin Moskovitz came backstage yesterday, and I interviewed him, which was really lucky. He’s a cofounder of Asana and Facebook. And he’s like, “Oh this video is really cool”. To me it feels like, they haven’t seen this kind of content about themselves before. We’ve done Mikkel from ZenDesk and Josh James from Domo and it’s just so exciting and humbling.