The beauty about building a SaaS business is that the software, by definition, scales easily. It’s an altogether tougher challenge to scale the organisation that develops, sells and supports the product - especially as the business goes international. It was a theme heard again and again during SaaStock 2017 in Dublin.
Discussions at the conference ranged from “Out of sight, not out of mind, expanding and managing teams overseas”, or “What changes From 10 to 100 Devs”, to “The Good, Bad and Ugly of Managing Teams”, and “Building a Culture to Attract Great Engineers”. Countless presentations touched on the role of culture in building a team. There’s no right and wrong way to do this; a culture that works in one organisation might not work in another. Some companies are very comfortable with remote working, and managing by metrics. Others feel the dynamic of working side-by-side, solving problems, is more productive.
Talkdesk was founded in the US but set up its operations and development in Portugal. Co-founder and CTO Cristina Fonseca recalled the company’s biggest challenge in 2013 when it grew from 30 people to 150. When the biggest problem was to scale knowledge for selling, supporting customers or developing new features, the classic startup mantra “move fast and break things” didn’t work. “We moved fast and created solid processes along the way,” Fonseca said.
“We were a small team, very focused on building repeatable processes on hiring, supporting customers. It was good processes that later on we could pass to other teams… The culture is what happens on a daily basis. If you don’t start at the right place, it’s very difficult to fix it,” she said.
“The biggest challenge is keeping everyone on the same page from a vision, mission, values point of view. As a CEO, culture is a thing I pay attention to the most,” said Salesloft CEO Kyle Porter.
“The most important factor is not around roles, skills or experience, but people with the same views and ambition. If you think you need to work 80 hours a week to build your company, you need other people to be aligned for that,” said Bénédicte de Raphélis Soissan, founder and CEO of Clustree, which uses AI to deliver decision making for recruitment and career development.
Culture changes as a company expands, added Grow’s CEO Rob Nelson. “The culture should evolve, mature and change and that’s a good thing. Our values have changed. It was ‘scrappy’ early on and the values were around being scrappy and figuring it out, but now it’s time to adopt new values that will take us to the next level,” he said.
Some company cultures favour remote working, and technology tools enable this to happen with highly productive results. A lot still depends on the company’s environment and the management style. Maria Gutierrez, VP of engineering at FreeAgent, is a self-confessed fan of distributed teams. She previously worked at LivingSocial, where she managed a globally distributed team of 80 people from Edinburgh. “The most important thing is full buy in from the leadership team. If leaders don’t believe that’s a way to work, then it will never work.” The key to success? “You have to put a lot of work in around clear expectations, and to give people the information they need to understand what is asked of them,” she said.
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