Jacob Rouser
Feb 7, 2019

This week, part of the CodeScience team took a trip to San Jose, California for a deep dive on all things SaaS at the SaaStr Annual 2019 conference.

This year’s SaaStr Annual is bigger and better than ever before — spanning the San Jose Convention Center and cresting 12,000+ attendees. Founder and CEO Jason Lemkin laid out his learnings over the past five years and how SaaStr Annual has officially hit version 2.0.

Diversity and Equality

Diversity and equality have been a key theme in this year’s conference. The SaaStr team plans to continue to build out the conference with a laser focus on diversity.

With transparent feedback on their successes and shortcomings, SaaStr succeeded in providing 1,000 diversity and inclusion passes (a VIP level pass that was free of charge). However, they are doubling that effort for 2020. Additionally, this year featured 52% women speakers.

From the PagerDuty Diversity and Inclusion Awards (congratulations to Kieran Snyder, CEO at Textio, for winning the Inclusion for Impact Award) to a myriad of dedicated sessions focusing in on how business leaders can achieve diversity and set a course for inclusions, SaaStr provided many opportunities to gain insight on this issue. We were lucky to learn from Salesforce’s own Leyla Seka (EVP of Mobile) and Molly Ford (Senior Director of Global Equality Programs) on how Salesforce themselves focused in on Gender Equality, Equal Pay, and Racial Equality.

Leyla and Molly shared their journeys on shaping the trajectory of Salesforce’s diversity, pay, and inclusion programs. We learned how Molly’s idea for a women's only summit came to life and how Leyla convinced Marc Benioff to check under the proverbial pay-rate-hood and review the actual pay rate details for their employees. Each initiative in their own right has shaped who Salesforce is today.

One quote from the session that stood out as they focused in about speaking up was, “If you don’t have the language to talk about change, how are we ever going to change?” - Leyla Seka. This quote sums up SaaStr’s focus on equality and diversity nicely — many powerful people across the globe have come together to learn, but now is the time for them to start dialogs and make commitments to bringing about the changes they want to see in the world. Molly signed off the session with this piece of advice and encouragement: “It is ok to not be perfect, what is important is to try harder. And, if you are committed to work on this, Salesforce will work with you.”

Customer Obsession

Another major theme of the year was around customer obsession and how the best companies are using it to grow. Here is a non-comprehensive collection of slides from various presentations that discuss customer obsession or success.

The focus on customers is the natural evolution for companies to grow. In a fireside chat with Hubspot CEO, Brian Halligan, he explains that trust in brands is at an all-time low and even the best tactics are starting to lose efficacy. It is the champions of your company that will help you win. In his words, “What started as building a product 10x better than your competitors has shifted to delivering 10x the customer experience — those companies who do this, will win.” We see this echoed in the latest Gartner report where they discuss that Customer Experience is the last form of true competitive advantage.

In a session with Sandy Carter, VP at Amazon Web Services (AWS), she discusses how AWS has customer obsession in their DNA, “We start with the customer, not the technology. We work backward from the customer and understand what they want, what their pain points are, and what do they want from our solution.” At AWS, they write a press release for each product they roll out before a single line of code is written. This forces you to summarize the product in a way that the customer understands — a clear headline that resonates with the customer, a sub-headline that addresses the customer’s pain, and this involves getting quotes from your customers about their thoughts about the product.

Customer obsession requires you to listen to your customer — 93% of CEOs say that customer obsession is the only way to be competitive, but 88% of those same people say their teams know how to execute customer obsession.

This sentiment was echoed again and again — so much so we’ll provide you a deep dive on the topic in the coming weeks.


It should come as no surprise that the final area we kept hearing about was growth — whether that was growing your company, growing your revenue, growing your funding, or even growing yourself. SaaStr Annual has dubbed itself as the one week where all things SaaS and cloud come together — and this collection of speakers and companies is providing a level of insight into the market that would be hard to find anywhere else.

In the opening remarks with Jason Lemkin, CEO of SaaStr, and Ryan Smith, Founder and CEO of Qualtrics, they unpacked what it was like for Ryan to turn down $500M for his company and then grow that to $8B only a few years later.

And many are predicting this is only the start of major investments into the SaaS ecosystem. Where once becoming a unicorn ($1B in valuation) was a rarity, Lemkin shares that they are becoming much more common. He explains that becoming a unicorn is now only a stop to something much greater, becoming a generational company — namely, becoming a company that will stay around for decades.

Lemkin isn’t the only one who sees the market share of SaaS growing. We were treated to a first-look at Bessemer's State of the Cloud 2019 Report, showing that liquidity and VC investments are at an all-time high and the market is pacing faster than Bessemer first predicted.

Bessemer predicted in 2015 that we’d see the public cloud market cap hit $500B by 2020; however, as of March 2, 2018, that number was hit — an entire two years early. Now, Bessemer predicts that the market cap will reach $1T by 2020!

Growth isn’t just about getting new customers, it is also about employees. There were quite a few sessions around how to successfully grow your teams. When growing your team, especially in the early stages, it isn’t just about a functional fit, it is about a cultural fit — each employee you add can fundamentally change the dynamics of the company. In a session with Atlassian President, Jay Simons, he said this, “You have to build empathy and trust with your employees and openness and transparency are the only ways to do this. And this is hard, but it is one the most successful ways to grow.”

Each year, SaaStr Annual provides us a unique look at the industry and a chance to meet with our friends and peers. We learned so much that we simply couldn’t fit it all into one blog post — so be on the lookout for our follow up posts where we’ll unpack these areas even more and explore how the best companies keep on winning.

Were you at SaaStr annual? Are you considering harnessing the power of the Salesforce AppExchange? Drop us a line — we’ve helped companies like Twilio and Qualtrics leverage the AppExchange as a differentiator and a business driver.

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