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The billion dollar CEOs – lessons in SaaS.

February 18, 2018

IMG_0778Last week I attended SaaStr Annual 2018 in San Francisco, the world’s largest SaaS industry event, with over 10,000 SaaS founders, VCs and executives in attendance.

The presentations were given by a selection of very successful founders, CEO’s, executives and investors from around the global SaaS industry.  I found myself referring to many of the CEO/founders who had achieved business valuations in excess of $1B as the “Billion dollar CEOs”.

SaaStr spanned three days, and I attended on behalf of my company Datagate Innovation as part of a 100 person delegation of SaaS entrepreneurs from New Zealand, organised by Callaghan Innovation and NZ Trade & Enterprise.  Our delegation also attended some excellent presentations from New Zealand SaaS business founders that have physically moved to North America and were generous in sharing their experiences of doing so.

For me, the value of participating in this delegation and attending this type of SaaS industry event, covered three main areas;

  1. Recognizing the common patterns, challenges, ups and downs of starting up a SaaS business. Despite my own experiences, it’s still good to hear of the billion dollar CEOs going through the same or similar challenges and reaching a massively successful outcome.  The value of this kind of psychological reinforcement cannot be overstated. In any industry it’s important to know what is normal and what is not, on the path to success. It also helps to know that you’re not alone and others face the same challenges as you on a daily basis.
  2. Learning new concepts, strategies, common metrics, KPIs and how the SaaS industry operates internationally.  It’s easy to get caught up in your own business, in your own locality without seeing the bigger, wider picture.
  3. Making new industry contacts.  I was fortunate to gain new American contacts at SaaStr and New Zealand contacts from within the Kiwi delegation itself.  Conferences like this are ideal to widen your business network, because you have so many people with a common interest from all over the world, in one place, at one time.

The New Zealand SaaStr delegation, meeting at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, prior to SaaStr.


A few of my favorite take-outs from SaaStr and the American-based NZ SaaS businesses (that happen to apply to my business Datagate) are as follows;

“Nail It before you Scale It” 

The short concise sentence above sums up how SaaS companies should transition from their start-up stage to their growth stage.  I think in many ways it encapsulates the essence of SaaS.

During the “Nail It” stage, the focus should be on understanding your customer, building your minimum viable product (MVP) that addresses the needs and wants of your customer, determining your unique selling points, your messaging and your sales strategy.  Ideally you should work with a small set of early-adopter customers to refine your offering based on their real-world feedback.  Focus on understanding and maximizing the value you are creating for your customers, aim for minimum churn, maximum customer satisfaction – before you even start focus on major revenue growth.

Setting aggressive revenue targets too early will drive the wrong behavior from your team.  You don’t want to cut corners to get on to the next sale until you’ve nailed your product and your service offering.  Once your offering has reached “nailed it” stage, there should be no need to cut corners when you get to “scale it”.

Aggressive revenue targets should be applied only when you reach the “Scale It” stage, once you’ve nailed your product or service offering.  If you scale too early, you are effectively damaging your reputation and your future potential.

This “Nail It before you Scale It” approach illustrates why SaaS start-ups require such strong support from their investors in the early stages.

Notes from several of the Billion Dollar SaaS CEOs

It’s extremely important to “know your customer” and ensure that the messages you are putting out in sales & marketing resonate well with them.  One very successful serial CEO said that when he moved into a new business, one of the first things he would do is personally spend time with customers and end users to get a better understanding their needs and what value they were (or weren’t) getting out of his company’s product.

A lot of the on-line sales processes today are heavily automated. There are tools to track the on-line activity of prospects and keep them updated regularly with a stream of sales & marketing material so they won’t forget you! The amount and depth of research that can be done on prospects automatically on-line is staggering.

Sales & Marketing work differently in the SaaS world than in the conventional scenario. In SaaS, marketing operates more in parallel with the sales team.  Prospects bounce between marketing and sales throughout their buying journey.  The two functions, sales and marketing must work tightly together with a common unified message and strategy.

Your team dynamic, your culture and your brand are extremely important to the success of your business.  Don’t retain people who damage your team dynamic or harm your culture, regardless of how well they might perform on their own.  You will find it easy to attract good people to your business if you have a good culture, reputation and brand.

Diverse teams work better than mono-cultural, single-gender teams. Research has proven that on average, businesses with more diverse teams perform better. The top performing companies seem to have the highest diversity.  SaaStr themselves have their own diversity and inclusion program and claimed to have 45%+ women speakers at SaaStr this year and over 60% women + multicultural speakers.


Entering the US Market from another country (such as NZ)

Seek to partner with a larger, established American business that targets the same customers as you do, but has a complementary product to yours (definitely not a competing product!). Make your product work well alongside their product and attend their trade shows to meet their customer base.  This is the quickest, easiest and most cost effective way to get direct access to a lot of your target customers.

Americanize your offering by working with your first early-adopter American customers to ensure your offering works well and is valuable for them. Every country has subtle (and not so subtle) requirements that differ from other countries (in the case of my business Datagate, we’ve had to do a lot of work with taxation and regulatory requirements for the American market).  Publish case studies of American customers using your product.  Testimonials from customers outside America are not as effective as American ones.

You need to build an American credit history by working through American banks and/or other institutions.  Credit ratings from outside America don’t count inside America.  Opening a bank account for your NZ-owned company can be difficult without an American credit history. It was suggested that it’s easier to open a personal bank account and use that first, to build up some history, allowing you to open a business account later on.

Due to the larger market size, you can be more focused on a narrower vertical market in America than you than you need to in a smaller economy such as New Zealand, where you tend to have to go wider to get enough sales volume.

It’s almost essential that the CEO of an American-focused business is located in America, in order to be taken more seriously by American customers, investors and banks.

American work visas can take a lot of time and effort to obtain, even if you are providing your own employment and employment to American citizens.  Don’t leave this until the last minute!

There might be challenges in getting into America, but it’s a huge market and well worth the effort.

BankLink co-founder invests in Enprise Group

September 16, 2015

Among Enprise’s market announcements made last week, one of the most significant was the investment made by Malcolm MacDonald, one of New Zealand’s most successful tech entrepreneurs, who bought 500,000 Enprise Group (NZAX:ENS) shares at 50 cents each.

Malcolm MacDonald-web-crop

In addition to investing in Enprise Group, Malcolm is also in the process of investing directly in to our Datagate business.

Malcolm was one of the founders and directors of BankLink, a very successful accounting software business that had direct data links to all the banks in New Zealand and Australia. BankLink was sold to MYOB in 2013 for $136M.

I am thrilled to have Malcolm join Enprise and Datagate. We have big aspirations for these businesses and Malcolm brings a significant amount of experience, expertise and wisdom to our group to help us achieve them.

Empowering the Customer – so many choices

May 10, 2013

As time moves forward in the world of business and commerce, we as consumers increasingly get offered more and more choices and options. “Empowering the customer” is what it’s all about.

A case in point is the financial and business management software industry where I work through my role at Enprise Group. Today there are exponentially more options than ever before in all aspects of designing, configuring, consuming, delivering, accessing and paying for software and related services. In addition, there are significantly varied choices of software vendor and choices in the type of expert services to help and guide you in the use of your selected system. I think this abundance of choice is great and the different options work well for different types of businesses in different situations.

Let’s look at the different choices and I’ll offer you my opinion of the relative pros and cons;

    1. Choice of Financial Software

Your choice of financial software is critical because you want to know that the software will be around for the long-term to grow along with your business. My advice is to stick with strong market-leading vendors who have modern technology platforms & development roadmaps, decent market share and are profitable growing businesses themselves. My recommendations for Australasian businesses are vendors like MYOB, SAP and Microsoft. These are sound and proven long-term operators that have innovative, future-proof offerings. The heart of your financial system is not something to take undue risks with in my opinion. Your choice of software vendor has long-term implications. Strong, established vendors will also tend to have a strong and established channel of service and solution partners that can ensure that you get the best performance and add-on solutions for your system.

    2. Cloud versus On-Premise

Financial software in “The Cloud” is a valid software outsourcing/management, delivery and financing option for many businesses, but it is being over-hyped at this time in my opinion. It is the right option for some businesses, just as on-premise is the right option for other businesses. A clear and logical view is required to see through all the smoke and mirrors to make the right decision for your business.

“The Cloud” for financial software refers to a combination of options, including; multi-tenanting, outsourcing, hosting and subscription pricing or “software as a service” or “pay as you go”. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the individual options and remember that each of these can be selected individually or collectively when buying financial software solutions these days.

    • Multi-Tenanting:

    This is where many different businesses share the same instance of an on-line software package. It is a very good way of getting a large number of customers to share and thereby reduce costs, but that in turn comes at a cost in terms of a loss in flexibility. It’s a bit like riding in a bus instead of your own car. It costs a lot less but you have no control over a lot of things, such as when upgrades, fixes and changes will happen to your system and the ability to pilot-test for workflow issues in a new version on your data before you commit to an upgrade. There is also the limiting of options with regard to connecting to other software or devices. This is potentially scary stuff to medium or large businesses with more complex workflows, but of little concern to smaller simpler businesses.

    • Remote Hosting:

    Having your software and server hosted and managed in a professional-grade data centre with lots of redundancy, by professional, qualified engineers is without doubt the most safe and secure option if you’re serious about safety and security for your system. This is a good option if you have business-grade Internet connectivity which is subject to minimal outages and speed problems. If your local Internet connections are not up to scratch then hosting your software and/or server outside your building will be painful. There are other benefits, such as being able to access your software using a range of platforms and devices but then again there can be added complexities when you want to do simple things like integrate with software on your local computer or do fancy stuff with printers and scanners etc.
    Remote hosting can be more expensive or less expensive than on-premise hosting, depending on the expertise level of your staff, Internet and other costs and what grade of server you already own.
    All in all a mixture of pros and cons depending on your situation. Remember that any software can be remotely hosted – not only the multi-tenanted browser-based variety. As an example, check out

    • Subscription Pricing:

    Often referred to as SaaS Pricing (Software as a Service) – this is where you pay as you use the software. It’s a bit like leasing a car and there is usually a minimum term, such as two or three years that you sign up for. It’s a Profit & Loss expense instead of buying a software license asset on the Balance Sheet of your business. An advantage of subscription pricing is that for full Cloud solutions, it’s clean & simple and includes all costs including software upgrades, hosting and support. A disadvantage is that you’re often locked into a payment plan and in the long run it can be more expensive than buying the software license outright in the first place.

At Enprise, we like to empower our customers with choices when it comes to their financial software solutions and our consultants are well equipped to help them in making the right choices for their businesses. Cloud or on-premise, local or hosted, up-front or subscription pricing – the choices are all there.

It’s Business, it’s Personal

December 29, 2012

You might have noticed that my photograph appears regularly on Enprise’s web sites and marketing material. A fair question would be why me and why not a better-looking member of the Enprise team (of which there are many!).

My rationale is that business is personal and as CEO I am ultimately responsible to every customer, partner, shareholder, staff member and board member for the performance and behavior of Enprise, its people, services and software products. In business, you need to know (or at least see) who you are dealing with and where the buck stops. At Enprise, it stops with me.

My resolution for the New Year and beyond, is to continue striving to make Enprise a better and bigger business; to give better quality of service and offer better value for money to our customers and partners; to offer new innovative solutions to give our customers true competitive advantage; to be a great employer and attract and retain the best staff; to be fair and honest in all business dealings; to grow the business; and to give a fair and good return to our shareholders. What’s more, I’m going to put more pictures of other Enprise team members on to our web sites and promotional material – in addition to me!

I think 2013 is shaping up to be a prosperous year for small to medium-sized businesses – and on that note, I’d like to wish all readers Compliments of the Season and Happy New Year!

New Era for Enprise and DSQ

September 5, 2012

On September 21st at the Annual General Meeting of ASX-listed DSQ Holdings Limited, shareholders will vote on a proposal to acquire the Enprise Group of businesses. If accepted, this will effectively enable the back-door listing of Enprise where it will transform from being a private company to becoming an Australian-listed public company. DSQ Holdings Ltd will transform from being a publicly listed “cash-box” (with no business operations) to becoming the Enprise Group.

For me, the idea of DSQ and Enprise becoming one and the same is certainly an exciting prospect. I have always wanted to build an innovative, expansive and profitable public company and I have been extensively involved in both of these two businesses over the last decade, being a founder and director of both.

In the past, Enprise & DSQ have been successful in building up international software businesses which were then acquired by major American companies. In 2011, Enprise sold its EMS-Cortex business to Citrix and DSQ sold its Datasquirt business to LiveOps.

The new Enprise will maintain a strategy aimed at sustainable growth, running the business as a cash earner rather than a cash burner. Enprise is the perfect platform for growth with its extensive global channels-to-market for business management software.
Included in the proposed Enprise Group acquisition is a one third share in a great new start-up business called which is a specialized Cloud Hosting Service provider aimed at the SME ERP market. At present it offers automated provisioning of hosted MYOB EXO systems and is marketed through the channel of MYOB EXO resellers throughout New Zealand and Australia. This business is experiencing rapid early stage growth and is a perfect example of how the Enprise Group can leverage its existing channels-to-market to launch new opportunities.

Enprise Solutions
Enprise Solutions is a Platinum MYOB EXO reseller in both Australia and New Zealand. It has offices in Auckland, Hamilton, Melbourne, Sydney and Wellington. The business is experiencing considerable demand from customers in Australia and our two Australian offices which were established earlier this year are driving a significant portion of our growth. Enprise’s goal is to achieve full regional coverage of Australia and New Zealand within the next 24 months.

Enprise Software
Enprise Software is a Gold Certified Solution Partner for the globally-marketed SAP Business One ERP platform. Enprise’s solutions include the popular Enprise Job Costing and Enprise Rent packages, amongst others. Sales and distribution is via a global channel of SAP certified resellers. There is much growth potential in this business unit as new demand grows for Cloud-based and mobility solutions in addition to SAP’s exciting new in-memory HANA platform.