Webinar: Evolving from SaaS to Marketplace: Key Lessons for Tech Leaders in Making the Jump

The opportunity set for SaaS is on the rise. The original SaaS model that revolutionized software is now enabling SMB and vertical SaaS companies to evolve from tool companies to market makers. Pioneers of these new SaaS models not only provide a tech platform to service providers, but also strengthen their position by extending into marketplaces. When these providers aggregate enough supply, they leverage their data and mindshare advantages to create two-sided marketplaces that enjoy powerful network effects. The result is a much stronger financial profile, deeper moats, and a significantly larger TAM.

TCV recently hosted an offsite focused on emerging trends that we believe are dramatically expanding the opportunity set and economic strength of vertical and SMB SaaS companies. 

We were fortunate to have Brian Rothenberg as a speaker. Before joining a leading new early stage venture firm Defy as a Partner, Brian was on the leadership team that took Eventbrite from startup through IPO – while evolving the company from a SaaS platform for event venues to a marketplace for live experiences.

In this conversation with John Burke, EVP at TCV, Brian explains the steps and structures necessary to accomplish this strategic transformation and reach scale. He also offers priceless tips on timing and managing relationships with original SaaS clients that leaders can apply as they focus on dramatically expanding their addressable markets.

To talk about SaaS opportunities and get a copy of the presentation, please contact John Burke or Katja Gagen at TCV.

The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit https://www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at https://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Toast: Building a System of Record for the Restaurant Industry

We believe that many SMB and vertical SaaS companies are starting to exhibit platform characteristics. Some of these companies are beginning to build consumer and supplier networks that are dramatically expanding the SaaS model.

Toast is a pioneer in the space, powering restaurants of all sizes with a technology platform that helps them streamline operations, increase revenue and deliver amazing guest experiences. No one lights up a room on these topics more than Tim Barash, Chief Business Officer and CFO at Toast. I’m also excited to welcome Tim as an Executive Advisor to TCV, where he will be working with TCV portfolio companies and helping us to assess new opportunities.

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Dave: Tim, welcome to TCV, and thanks so much for spending time to share your thoughts with us!

Tim: I am excited to be a part of the team — it’s been great to meet with some of the founders of this incredible new class of companies, changing the rules of what has traditionally been considered SaaS.

Dave: Tell us about Toast. What is the company today, what’s its mission, and where is it going?

Tim: Toast is a company that is transforming the hospitality industry with an end-to-end platform, extending from a core commerce engine into guest experience, employee engagement, and financial services. Our mission is to empower the restaurant community to delight guests, do what they love, and thrive. We as Toasters are very passionate about bringing this mission to life for our customers. We launched our core offering in 2013 to the first few restaurants and today are serving tens of thousands of customers while still growing over 100%, with over 1,600 employees globally. It’s been a wild ride these past five years and it’s a really fun space with a creative and diverse customer set.

Dave: You and I recently hosted an offsite on “SaaS as a Platform.” Why is Toast a platform to its restaurant customers?  If you’re the CEO of a SaaS company, how do you know that you are or could be a platform?

Tim: Toast really extends all the way from the front of house to the back of the house, bringing restaurants into the 21st century with a cloud and mobility-first operating system, including hardware such as self-ordering kiosks and handhelds for order & pay-at-the-table and guest feedback. We’ve evolved from this core system of record into other high-value offerings, including payment processing, payroll & employee management software, credit and consumer-facing apps, and we’ve had great feedback from our customer base that they want us to continue to solve more problems for them between our first-party offerings and our deep partner network.

I think being the Platform or System of Record generally means you have the most mindshare and time spent on your system relative to others the same user may have. As important is where the data resides; in the restaurant vertical, the core data sets are menus, orders, guest data, and employee data, whereas other verticals like doctor’s offices might be more around scheduling, billing/invoicing, and insurance connectors. If the key personas are logging in multiple times per day and using your tool as the system of record for their most important data, it’s likely there are multiple platform opportunities to exploit to make their lives even easier.

Dave: Let’s first talk about payments. Generically the opportunity in payments is for SaaS companies to start monetizing flow through GMV. Why is this good for your customers, the end merchant, and your customer’s customer, the merchant’s consumer?

Tim: A lot of companies are starting to integrate payments mostly because it creates a much smoother, simpler experience for the merchant. It starts with onboarding and spans ongoing support and easy reconciliation of transactions and payments through the same software. Small businesses generally do not like having to deal with multiple vendors when they can use one holistic solution for what they are trying to get done.

What’s really compelling is what you can do for the merchant and the end user once you have payments integrated by capturing more data. An example is identifying the end user and better understand buying patterns and be able to help small businesses market to their customers in a more targeted and automated way.

There’s also very significant margin enhancement if you can get payments right, which can fuel higher investment levels in areas like Customer Success and R&D to deliver even more customer value by displacing a horizontal payments vendor.

Dave: I know you could hold a master class on just payments, but quickly what are three tips for getting started? Should you make them mandatory, or an option?

Tim: Understanding your strengths and weaknesses as a team here is important — you can get started with a referral partnership or go full bore and become a payment facilitator and handle all the risk, underwriting, and merchant-facing tech. It really depends on the available talent, domain knowledge, and capital access to get something off the ground. Once you’ve decided what to go with, here are three tips:

  1. Build a dedicated team that understands your payments space at a deep level — there can be a lot of new complexity across product, tech, risk/underwriting, pricing, go-to-market strategy, and customer success that may look and feel different from your existing business. Make sure at least 1-2 people are coming in with real payments or fintech experience. Card-present vs. eCommerce experience will likely be something to think about here.
  2. Resist the urge to over-monetize or make pricing overly complex — traditionally there have been some bad actors in the payments world and, as a result, a lot of these companies have low NPS and very high churn — great SaaS companies have the opposite, so don’t tempt fate for a few extra basis points.
  3. If you are doing anything other than an arms-length referral partnership, you should be taking payments-specific risk, fraud, and security very seriously.

Dave: Ok, so once you’ve launched payments, how would you extend next? I know it depends, so maybe talk about where you would go if you were a front office offering and a back-office offering. Or better yet, what is the prioritization framework for the different offerings?

Tim: I think the prioritization framework begins with mission — why does your company exist and what are the biggest problems in your industry that you have an unfair right to help solve? As an example, Toast is the source of lots of employee data and we kept hearing from our customers that, in the current macro environment, labor was their biggest concern, so we had both the market need and the natural entry point to get deeper into payroll and employee engagement.

On back-of-office solutions it’s likely things like payments, credit, payroll, insurance, and B2B/vendor marketplaces can be interesting depending on the platform and vertical. For front-of-house it’s likely more about CRM, marketing tools, loyalty programs, other commerce touchpoints, and the holy grail of leveraging supply of SMB’s to create a two-sided consumer marketplace. That said, there aren’t many companies that have made the B2B2C transition, yet it can be a tremendous value creator.

Dave: Credit is a big step change because it involves a balance sheet and underwriting to risk. What is your take?

Tim: I think this really depends on the execution muscle of your company — if you’ve already gone deep on something like payments, you may have some experience on the fraud and underwriting side, but getting into credit ups the ante in a big way. You need to feel confident you have some really strong players on data science, finance, and risk to go after this yourself. Starting with a partnership with a Kabbage, Fundbox, or OnDeck could be a way to dip the toe in the water before putting your capital at risk or trying to attract outside investors to supply the capital for a credit offering.

If you are going after this yourself, you will almost definitely want to find outside capital to offload most of the risk and balance sheet implications of a credit business, both for optics reasons with investors and because your capital is better put to use hiring engineering, sales, etc. than lending to your customers.

Dave: How about payroll? Big dollars given the per employee model. How do you know there’s real demand for payroll? Given the 50-state nature, would you do this in-house, partner, or buy?

Tim: If I think about this space, the only software business that didn’t have HCM/HRIS at its core that’s done this really well is Intuit, though Square is also starting to gain traction in their new offerings. Payroll/HCM is its own beast with its own ecosystem of products from worker’s comp and healthcare to newer technology offerings like same-day pay and employee management solutions. Similar to payments, capital, marketplaces, and other platform plays, the decision on whether to extend is all about whether you have a natural right to play. For Toast, we have restaurant employees clocking in and out every day on our platform, and managers/owners running staffing reports and approving hours before downloading the data and uploading to a payroll/HCM solution. This made it a pretty natural move to solve this disjointed experience for our customers.

If you’ve got the natural right to play, demand is probably dependent on the complexity in your vertical — if your customers only have 1-5 employees and not a lot of complexity around time and attendance, they may be using an offering from Intuit through their accounting package, or Gusto, or some other inexpensive and easy solution, making it more difficult to displace.

In terms of build/partner/buy, this could be a long slog to build, because of all the regulatory/compliance elements. Depending on your scale, partnering is likely the best way to enter into the space and learn this side of the business. Just be careful as one of the reasons to get into payroll/HCM is that it’s a fairly sticky product.

Dave: Ok, let’s get into the next-level network effects for SaaS companies. Most two-level networks tend to be “Big B to small B” in a buyer/supplier relationship. TCV invested in three of them over the years. To give the theme a plug — Ariba in procurement, CCC in the auto industry, and Avetta  in supplier information management and compliance. You sell into large company buyers and help them connect more efficiently to smaller/SMB consumers. Winning into the big buyers gives you a strong value proposition to small suppliers and gaining more suppliers in your network makes you even more attractive to the big buyers. It’s a virtuous cycle.

But every SaaS company, particularly vertical and SMB providers, can look to leverage consumer, employee, and supplier networks. What’s your take?

Tim: It’s a really exciting play that is starting to develop in SaaS. If done correctly, it can be a game changer in helping SMBs get the scale advantages of larger enterprises and change their businesses for the better.

Dave: Let’s take supplier networks first. Who is doing a good job getting into the supplier marketplace?

Tim: I think you just hit a few of the strong players earlier. What CCC has done with the auto parts marketplace is really exciting and a playbook that could be run by a lot of SaaS platforms in other verticals, especially something like construction or home services. I’ve seen a lot of startups try to create the supplier marketplaces in industries such as dental offices, restaurants, and others, but the standalone model can be difficult because they aren’t starting with one side of the marketplace already built up — that’s what’s so exciting about these platform opportunities for existing SaaS companies.

Dave: How about employees?

Tim: There are lot of interesting companies out there. For example, SnagAjob and ZipRecruiter are working on building out the marketplace. I think ZipRecruiter has been a really interesting story as they did leverage existing relationship with employers to create their marketplace. Over time, I think we will see a lot more of these models. There have been a few entrants into the “LinkedIn of hourly workers” space, and time will tell if something like that will be created or if more mindshare will go to vertical-specific SaaS/Employee Network plays. It’s interesting to think about the marginal utility of a horizontal employee network, certainly there are some generalists in this employee population but also a lot of specialization in specific trades and industries.

Dave: Consumers is probably where the big dollars are. Marketplaces regularly capture 10-40% of GMV to deliver consumers.  How can SaaS companies partake of the consumer opportunity?

Tim: I think it heavily depends on how valuable the supply side of the marketplace is. There are verticals including food, certain home services, hotels, etc. where quality and user-specific preference is going to really matter. If you have really compelling supply (especially if it is hard to access online), you can get real leverage in building out a consumer marketplace. If it’s something like transportation, it may be harder to have any real edge against a standalone marketplace startup.

If you are in a position to capitalize on a consumer network, I think creating a separate team to go after that opportunity in a big way is likely the right way to go as so many parts of the business will be different than your core SaaS team is used to working on. You want the unfair advantage of owning supply without a handicap of having a team that hasn’t built a consumer business before.

Dave: Well Tim, I know we could go on for hours on this topic. Thanks so much for taking the time today, and great to have you as part of the TCV team. I’m excited to work with you.

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Tim Barash is an Executive Advisor at TCV.

The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). This blog post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified above, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Banking Evolution & Revolution—Fireside Chat with Jacqueline (Jackie) Reses, Head of Square Capital, and David Yuan, GP at TCV

We believe that many SMB and vertical SaaS companies are starting to exhibit platform characteristics.  Some of these companies are beginning to build consumer and supplier networks that are expanding the SaaS model dramatically. 

We recently brought the pioneers of these new SaaS models together and were fortunate to have Jackie Reses share her thoughts on the emerging lending opportunity for SaaS. Witty, wise, and incredibly insightful, Jackie is a total superwoman. In addition to running Square Capital, Jackie serves on the board of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank and is a former board member of Alibaba. She also worked in private equity for 20 years.

Dave: Great to talk to you, Jackie! Is it true you started your career on the dark side, as an investor?

Jackie: Yes, I worked in private equity for 20 years. I just kept going forward. I had a mid-life crisis without the crisis, as I like to call it. I ran parts of a large private equity firm, but I much prefer being on the operating side. I still invest and that’s my fun side project. But I love working at Square. It’s a really fun place to be.

Dave: Square is certainly on a tear. Maybe we could start and just talk a little bit about that. Very few companies reach your scale, and then accelerate. But that’s what you’ve done at Square.

Jackie: Yeah, it’s exciting. We have driven strong revenue growth at scale since we went public.  It’s interesting to think back to when Square was starting with payments and building on that. That really was the catalyst for what we should build in an ecosystem in a very different way. Since then, we have built ancillary products around payments like point of sale, loyalty, employee engagement, lending, and payroll around an ecosystem.

Dave: You mentioned that every one of your products is an onboarding product. You don’t think of “land and then expand,” it’s all onboarding, it’s all “land”?

Jackie: Like lending we consider it to be a product that will onboard into Square. We have two parts of our lending business. One is the business lending, and that’s something we launched with Square sellers, and we extended it outside of Square in the United States.

And then we also have an Installments product which has been incredible. Installments is a consumer lending product that can have a customer pay for large purchases with installments, which provides the buyer with payment flexibility.

That said, I think about Square Capital first. My job is to grow Square Capital. That should stand on its own. The product itself has to be remarkable.

When we launch a new Square Capital product, we launch it because I think about all inbound customers into Square for lending and then create a cycle throughout our ecosystem to evolve as they learn about other products.

Dave: You talked about Square and the multiple product lines and high rate of self-onboarding. How core is self-serve to Square?

Jackie: It’s the way we start on every product. They have to be self-serve, elegant and fast as a means to make them remarkable. Driving your thought process around self-serve forces you to create simplicity and ease of use. 

Dave: You’ve described several different businesses that have arguably very different DNA. SMB, point of sale, consumer cash, credit, etc. How does that work in the same organization?

Jackie: I think lending is the one that everyone has the hardest time with. If anyone thinks that payments are regulated, lending is like 10x that.

Managing risk and the dynamics of a high-growth company are very different disciplines. I think that’s probably the hardest thing I deal with as an executive at Square. The dynamics of credit risk can really hurt sellers, and they can hurt us, and they can hurt our ecosystem of investors.

And so top line growth on a lending business is not the goal. I think you have to have a very different level of responsibility and a discipline that is almost the inverse to payments, where topline revenue growth can be the goal.  

You need to remain focused on what’s good for the end merchant. There are some lenders out there that have a goal of maximizing loan size. I think that’s irresponsible. We try to maximize a loan that helps sellers grow. That’s a very different mindset. We are also very fortunate that we don’t have channel or customer acquisition costs which helps us take a pretty responsible approach.

Dave:  Right. There is a real trade-off between growth, risk, and merchant health. How do you measure your success, what are the metrics you report on?

Jackie: It’s originations and different views of defaults. We could double our loans if we wanted to tomorrow. Yet, you double it at the loss of small businesses who can’t afford the debt that you’re giving up. The one limitation of credit is that there is a natural debt capacity of what these companies can afford based on their cash flows. And you’ve got to make sure you’re really good at how to predict that and then manage it so you’re not putting companies at risk.

Dave: Let’s talk about the risk side. Companies in an earlier phase want to learn. They want to train their algorithms. So in some ways having defaults is actually a data point to trigger. How do you get through that initial learning period?

Jackie: We do the same thing. Although I have to say that many refer to models which really aren’t machine learning models – the data set is too small to be driven off of machine learning. 

It’s hard to train models when you have a really narrow data set. Many lenders use basic heuristics to limit who they lend to.  That is not a machine learning model – its addition and subtraction in a ton of excel. 

Loan losses also can be instructive for model training, so you need to be willing to invest in your weakest credits in order to learn.  If you look at the public fintech lending companies, very few of them have actually been successful at long term customer acquisition and default profiling. It’s a hard, capital intense business and takes years to do. We think of lending as a platform to help our sellers grow.  The regulatory environment and the amount of capital required to do this is just really high.

Dave: What about payments data?

Jackie: The payments data is super useful but you have the fidelity of moment to moment transactional changes.  Matching risk, credit, behavioral and bank data together with payments is very powerful!

Additionally, for model training, its instructive to look at why sellers de-activate off of our system. Insights around business failure and fraud can also be a helpful part of the equation. 

Dave: You mentioned just how different being a lender is than the rest of Square and orientation around growth, versus risk management. How did you actually set it up so that it was able to perform this task culturally? Did you wall it off?

Jackie Reses: I thought about it every day. To be honest I think we’re very unique and lucky at Square because the way we are owned and run is with a long-term orientation, which most public companies are not.

Being focused on the long term, you can set up the ethos of what you need it to be. Because it’s the right answer for that kind of business long term. But we talk about it every day because it’s really easy to lend money, and it’s really hard to get it back.

And then the compliance is huge. I have everything documented in a way that’s profoundly non-tech. And that’s in a product that’s highly automated. We practically have a lean lending team. And then I have to have all these policies and reviews and committees. It’s the only product at Square that has a board committee.

We’re growing fast, but you got to be really strict about it and stand up if you see issues.

Dave: Let’s switch gears a little bit. I’d love to take advantage of your experience with Alibaba. The dynamics in China seem totally different.

Jackie: Totally different. QR code based, facial recognition based, sound based.

Dave: Do you think there’s a future state in China where you do have to worry about some sort of disaggregation or actually consolidation of the payment infrastructure?

Jackie: The dynamics in China are really different because there was an escrow system that existed 10 years ago in China because there were no logistics, and there was no trust. If you were going to order a package in China, you never knew whether you were going to get it, how you were going to get it, because neither system existed around credit and shipping. They just didn’t exist. And so the idea of an escrow system was the genesis of how Alipay got started. It really became a predominant payment rail. And it did so in an environment where it matched its sister company which controls 60 percent of the eCommerce in China. So those dynamics are really different than the dynamics that exist in the United States today, where the proliferation of credit options is extraordinary. In the U.S., there is no logistics issue with the way we think about freight and the multiple players. You can trust that if you send a package by FedEx it will actually show up.

All these dynamics of eCommerce that we take for granted in the United States are really the reason why there’s such a tight band of competition in China. I think WeChat is interesting. WeChat evolved after QQ started. Tencent built an unbelievable business and their second version of it has just been extraordinary because it’s become like a full utility app for everyone in China.

So now you have these two non-bank players in China competing with one another. Neither have really been able to get into the United States. I don’t know whether you noticed, but you’ll start to see Alipay showing up at a register. Go ask how many transactions have actually happened at that counter. There’s the notion of these Chinese tourists that are coming here but they use UnionPay.

That said, there’s not a lot of demand for it at this point in the United States. I think they’ll have a better time in Southeast Asia where they’re more connected and Japan, because they’ve got the Softbank connectivity that still owns a huge portion of Alibaba and Alipay. I just think it will be much harder in the United States.

David Yuan: Well Jackie, that was incredible! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your views.

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


The Consumer Opportunity — Fireside Chat with Ian Siegel, CEO of ZipRecruiter, and David Yuan, GP at TCV

TCV recently hosted an offsite on companies extending into consumer, supplier, and employee networks.

ZipRecruiter is one of the few companies that have been able to extend into consumer demand. We were fortunate to have Co-Founder and CEO Ian Siegel join us and share his thoughts on ZipRecruiter’s journey.

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Dave: So maybe to kick us off, tell us a little bit about yourself and ZipRecruiter.

Ian: Sure. ZipRecruiter is an online employment marketplace that I co-founded in 2010. Based in LA, we use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to actively connect people to their next great opportunity.  We’ve helped over 1.8 million businesses of all sizes (from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies) with their hiring needs. Tens of thousands of businesses use us every month to find their next great hires and millions of job seekers search for jobs on ZipRecruiter on a monthly basis.  

Dave: We’ve been talking to each other for a while, and your first demand side offering was allowing employers to use your distribution software application. And if they weren’t getting applicants fast enough, they could push a “boost” button and get more applicant flow. That was a recruiting facing experience. Explain what’s going on in the background.

Ian: We distribute job postings to more than 1,200 sources. That includes job boards, aggregators, talent communities, social networks, etc. We send jobs to online destinations where talent may be congregating and then we pay those sources on a per-click basis for the traffic they can deliver to us. And then there’s TrafficBoost, our own job promotion product. Employers can buy a “Boost” and get more quality candidates faster.

Dave: Great. So, you have this distribution software, and then the “boost button” which is like performance media buying for lack of a better description. And then you started your own candidate profiles. How does that work?

Ian: Good question. The tricky thing about our category is that it represents a point-in-time need. One of the things you need to contemplate when you have consumers, for example, in restaurant reservations or looking for a job, is that they need you for a moment, and then they’re theoretically going to go away. You have to start thinking about what you can do to get a data lock. What are the things you could add to your service? That means they don’t just use you this time but there’s an advantage to using you in subsequent visits or a subsequent need for that service.

We started moving from résumés to profiles. Imagine you are a nurse: You come to our site and upload a résumé. We’ve become very good at enriching résumés and identifying the single skills that employers are really looking for—for example, a nursing license number turns out to be the only thing you need in your profile to be inundated with interest from hospitals and healthcare providers. As a result, you are persistently being found by new employers who can give you subsequent offers.

Our theory is that job seekers never want to miss a great opportunity that’s coming through. There’s this misnomer about the job search category which is that there’s an active and a passive job seeker profile. The reality is that a person who is eagerly full-time searching for work represents only about 12% of the total job-seeking population. The other 88% are people who are somewhere between dissatisfied and happy at their current job but are willing to learn more about new opportunities. 

Dave: So, basically, you’ve gotten the consumer applicant to engage with you, which is quite different, right? You’re running essentially a SaaS business, and then you have to build a consumer business on top of it?

Ian: After two years in, we realized that, no matter how many cool features we put into our product, employers were (and are still) using us for one thing: access to job seekers. The more people we have on ZipRecruiter, the more employers we attract, the more new jobs we have, and the more people we get.  

It’s a virtuous circle.

And so suddenly, we’re not just in the employer business: We’re also in the job seeker business. 

Dave: So how did you go and do this? 

Ian: When our aided brand awareness peaked in the U.S., it became much more important to make sure that job seekers also knew about us. Which is why most of our engineers are now working on some form of search algorithm or search interface. We are deeply thoughtful about focusing on job seekers because, fundamentally, we sell to them.

Dave: Okay. You made the switch, which was tricky since you recognized that you potentially competed with some of your suppliers, and you had to go all in on brand. Or not just brand, but a switch from a business to a consumer business brand.

Ian: It’s always harder to get the buyer than the seller. If you have the buyers, the sellers will come to you. To get to that next level in our category, it’s important to be first and top of mind. When someone decides they’re ready to look for a job, you want to be synonymous with job seeking so they go straight to ZipRecruiter to look for work. 

Dave: How do you balance ongoing management of your product teams and the focus of the organization between both customer groups? Because in reality, you still need to maintain some amount of excitement and engagement around the recruiters while you’re sort of shifting to job seekers. How are you thinking about that?

Ian: It’s such a good question. Let me take you through an exercise that was a real-world problem we had in our business. All of you are hiring managers, right? Would you like it if someone submitted a résumé to you, and ZipRecruiter corrected the grammar? The underlying question is “Do you consider spelling errors and grammatical errors a signal that tells you something’s up?”

Dave: Massive signal.

Ian: Right, signal. If I ask that question to the job seekers, they really don’t like typos. That’s a real-world problem I’m faced with. Who is our customer? The answer is nuanced and depends on the situation. How did we decide who that customer was? In that particular example, we did not correct their spelling and grammar.

Another example: We are the number one-rated job search app on both iOS and Android. How did we become number one? With one simple feature: We tell job seekers when an employer looks at their application. That’s it. The number one thing job seekers hate more than anything is what they call the “résumé black hole”, i.e. when they apply to a job and never hear anything back. In this case, we made the choice for the benefit of the job seeker.

Dave: What about the team? Was it a separate build? Was there significant change since this is a very different business?

Ian: Our product team members were all revenue-focused, which is to say employer-focused. So, we decided to split the team and have one subteam focusing on job seekers and the other subteam focusing on employers. We made a significant investment to support the job seeker subteam and, in some areas, we have multi-year timelines because you can either play to make money or you can play to win. And to win in our category, you need liquidity. You can’t have a marketplace without some form of elite brand recognition and differentiation. 

Dave: Absolutely, great point to end with. Thanks so much Ian!

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


This is the biggest trend in hotel tech that you’ve never heard of


Originally published at https://hoteltechreport.com on May 2, 2019.

Creating revolutionary technology for hotels has historically been a slog but lately we’re seeing a change in fate for hotel software companies due to increased investment in the space. One of the biggest investors in hospitality tech is Menlo Park based TCV, the growth equity firm that has invested in breakout companies like Sojern and SiteMinder within hotel tech. TCV has also made major investments in the broader hospitality and travel space such as: Airbnb, TripAdvisor, HomeAway, Expedia, Orbitz, SeatGeek and Toast.

TCV is one of the largest names in the world of technology investing with a successful track record in the massive hospitality and travel vertical. Vertical market software is an extremely hot investment theme right now.

“The easy opportunities for disrupting old-line industries are drying up. Now, many of the up-and-coming start-ups that may become the next unicorns have names like Benchling and Blend. And they largely focus on software for specific industries.” New York Times

Long time TCV investor and former SiteMinder CFO John Burke is excited about the opportunities within the vertical market software. John and his team have identified a trend within a sub investment theme that they’ve coined: “SaaS as a Network”. Here’s how they describe the concept.

“When a SaaS provider starts serving a high enough density of merchants, they can leverage that strength to build two-sided marketplaces with the merchant’s customers, suppliers, and employees.”

David Yuan, TCV General Partner

The general hypothesis is that once vertical market software companies achieve scale with regards to their core products they can always bolt on new point solution functionality but would be wise to focus on a much bigger opportunity. Specifically, TCV believes that these software companies can create two-sided marketplaces that connect their users to new channels of customers, suppliers and employees. Back in February, Hotel Tech Report identified the explosion of marketplaces as one of the 5 biggest tech trends at ITB Berlin, a trend that mirror’s TCV’s investment thesis. Of all the software companies creating marketplaces in hospitality, TCV’s portfolio company SiteMinder has the largest scale to date.

Image from David Yuan’s article SaaS as a Platform, SaaS as a Network

Last year SiteMinder threw its hat in the ring with the launch of SiteMinder Exchange aimed at “breaking down the industry’s notorious integration barriers, connecting hotel systems and applications through smart and simple connectivity.”

“The reality is that few industries are as fragmented as hospitality particularly at the PMS level. There has always been demand for many of the new applications, but innovation has been stifled by lack of connectivity and the sales model makes the economics challenging. Some of these barriers are starting to be broken down by SiteMinder and others which I think can unlock a lot of innovation for the industry. But this is a hard problem and it’s a complicated space with lots of moving pieces so that makes it challenging.”

John Burke, TCV Executive Vice President

SiteMinder’s Exchange marketplace is aimed at allowing other applications to access the firm’s broad user base consisting of more than 30,000 hotels worldwide. Most of those hotels are using SiteMinder’s highly popular channel manager which connects hotel inventory to 3rd party distribution channels as well as other products within the firm’s broader guest acquisition platform such as a rate intelligence tool and an online booking engine. The firm is betting that it can add value for users by allowing them to try more hotel tech applications with ease and in turn create new business opportunities for those suppliers.

We sat down with Burke to discuss his views on hotel tech, the future for platforms like SiteMinder Exchange and highlight the most cutting edge developments happening right now within the hotel space.

How did you get into venture investing?

I’ve been in and around venture since 2011. I started my career with EY in their audit and transaction advisory teams. Getting into venture was a bit of good timing and persistence. The TCV team were looking for an immediate hire and decided to take a chance. I was with TCV from 2011 to 2014 as part of the B2B software team. As I thought about what was next for me, I was drawn to the experiences and mentorship of the TCV Venture Partners (e.g. former senior operating executives such as Erik Blachford). The tech market at that time had been heating up with a few high-profile IPOs. It was my belief that the next wave of great investors was not going to be able to rely on multiple expansion or financial engineering. I believed the best investors over the next 10 years would need to be partners driving actual business growth.

That brought me to SiteMinder down in Sydney, Australia. TCV had just led the Series B investment in the company, and the fundamentals of the business were remarkable. On top of that, they were ramping up for aggressive growth across Europe, SE Asia and were about to launch in the U.S. which I thought would be great experience. I was also excited to work with Mike Ford and the entire SiteMinder team. Mike is a special entrepreneur who is not only very smart and a product visionary, but also authentic and humble. I joined SiteMinder initially in an analytics role and then for the next 3.5 years as CFO. For family reasons, we decided to move back to the U.S. last year, where I reconnected with TCV and rejoined the team. I continue to spend a lot of time in the hospitality and vertical software space and TCV just led an investment in Toast, an exciting next-generation restaurant platform.

Tell us about TCV.

TCV was founded in 1995 as a $100M venture fund and today has raised over $15 billion across 10 funds, focusing exclusively on technology companies. We recently began investing out of TCV X, a $3 billion fund. TCV looks to partner with companies that have potential for a sustained category leadership position and are looking to succeed at an even greater scale. This typically means that a company has been growing for several years — with a history of customer trust and engagement and a business model that is reflective of the value they provide. We are flexible on transaction type with experience in public and private markets and are comfortable in minority or majority positions. Over the past 24 years, we’ve had more than 60 IPOs in our portfolio and have worked with some of the largest franchises in technology including ExactTarget, Facebook, Netflix, GoDaddy and Spotify.

At this point, I’ve talked with many investors in the space which helps me appreciate how the various funds are different. For TCV, I think it’s the depth of industry knowledge and a growth mindset. We have close to 100 team members now and our investment team focuses every day on technology and goes deep in verticals and sub-verticals. When we identify a compelling technology trend, we take the time to thoroughly understand the underlying drivers, business model, and competitive environment. Having a developed perspective means we can have much more meaningful conversations about a company’s business and growth opportunities and are positioned to be a better thought partner for the executive teams as they drive towards expansion and category leadership. We’re not afraid to make bold bets especially when we have conviction on category leadership and to do whatever it takes to help companies reshape industries.

Can you talk about TCV’s view on hotel tech and its SiteMinder investment?

Travel and Hospitality has been a core focus of TCV for well over a decade. In addition to SiteMinder, the active portfolio companies we are working with include Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Sojern, Tour Radar, and Klook. Previously we were investors in Expedia, HomeAway, Orbitz, and Travelport, among others.

For SiteMinder, TCV led the Series B round and we have continued to stay active with the company as the lead director since then. Two of my partners David Yuan (General Partner) and Erik Blachford (Venture Partner) continue to serve on the Board of Directors.

SiteMinder has an incredible history, where is the company today?

SiteMinder is a hotel guest acquisition platform that connects hotels to future guests, so hoteliers can go back to doing what they love. It’s trusted by more than 30,000 hotels of all sizes, across 160 countries and has helped generate more than 87 million reservations worth over US$28 billion in revenue for hotels each year.

SiteMinder is based in Australia, how did you come across the investment?

It was a team effort. Back in 2011 to 2013 we spent a bunch of time mapping out the ecosystem for online travel and hospitality attending industry shows like HITEC and Phocuswright. Ultimately, we identified the channel management sector as promising albeit a lesser known segment in the category. Our view at the time was that online travel was increasingly complicated and in flux with new players vying for hotel distribution. Independent hotels were harder to aggregate but would also allow these same middlemen an ability to offer differentiated supply that was higher margin. Channel management became interesting because it aggregated and provided connectivity to this supply. We thought this was a hard problem particularly to do in a cost-effective way but when executed it could be highly strategic given the long-tail nature of both hotel supply and PMS. From there we focused on the best product and category leader which led us to SiteMinder. One of my colleagues got us an introduction to Mike Ford through an employee. We then got on the 14-hour flight over to Sydney and created a deal.

What’s one piece of advice you have for hotel tech entrepreneurs when raising capital?

Test the investors. Anyone can look at metrics, but make sure you push them on the nuances of your positioning and make sure they understand the depth of your industry and strategic implications of the various alternatives. Mike did this to us in a big way when we pursued SiteMinder and it always stuck with me.

One pitfall I’ve seen is entrepreneurs who get ahead of themselves with regards to the amount of capital raised or valuation and focus on those items vs. choosing the right partner. This can have implications down the road. I would say to raise what you need and what strategically makes sense given your market and opportunity. And focus as much time and energy as you can on the partner. In addition to the strategic perspective which is table stakes, I tend to think entrepreneurs should focus on investors with candor (to drive constructive feedback delivered in the right way) and humility (it’s all about the team and this also makes it more fun).

How do you think the hotel technology space will change over the next 5-years?

It’s a great time to be in hotel technology given how dynamic this market is. I think we are still early in the growth journey for hotel software. In my mind, there is no doubt that software will continue to play a larger and larger role in the next 5 years and continue to reshape the industry and guest and operator experience. We have also been spending a bunch of time on a thesis we are excited about, called “SaaS as a Platform and SaaS as a Network,” which is around the continued extension of the SaaS business model and platform companies leveraging their position in creating marketplaces with employees, suppliers, or customers. I think this trend has many opportunities in travel.

For hotels specifically, I think data, connectivity, and personalization will only increase in importance. Tools like SiteMinder Exchange, which is a data layer connecting PMS with applications and demand channels, can be a big part of this and drive innovation.

I also think there will continue to be more dominant global players with companies like Ctrip continuing global expansion and Google, Facebook/Instagram, and TripAdvisor starting to see momentum on their new models. The lines in the accommodation industry will continue to blur as Airbnb ramps up their investment and focus on hotels as well.

I also feel labor management will matter more, and there will be new innovative ways to tackle this challenge. This is something we’ve seen in the retail vertical which I think will also make its way to the travel industry.

People often say that the hotel industry is a bit slow to adopt technology. Do you agree?

I agree. But I don’t think it’s been driven by the lack of interest or desire. Hoteliers care deeply about guest experiences and the ones that I’ve spent time with often always go above and beyond what’s expected. The reality is that few industries are as fragmented as hospitality particularly at the PMS level. There has always been demand for many of the new applications, but innovation has been stifled by lack of connectivity and the sales model makes the economics challenging. Some of these barriers are starting to be broken down by SiteMinder and others which I think can unlock a lot of innovation for the industry. But this is a hard problem and it’s a complicated space with lots of moving pieces so that makes it challenging.R

If you were leaving venture capital tomorrow and forced to start a hotel technology company — what would it be?

That’s a tough one. Part of working in an operator role at SiteMinder helped me realize how hard it is to be an entrepreneur and scale a company. This only deepened my respect for what they do. I’m a big believer that you need to follow your heart, so I’d want to align it to something I am passionate about. Maybe I’d do something connecting hotels/travel and yoga which is something I’ve come to enjoy. And being a CFO and travelling a lot, I also think the opportunities in corporate travel remain significant.

What is the most interesting or surprising thing that you’ve learned from investing in hotel tech?

Not too much is surprising me at this point. It feels like there is never a dull day in hotel tech! One thing I did notice about some of the larger players in the space is that they serve hospitality, but at their core they are surprisingly not hospitable. One of my partners recently did a podcast with the former CMO at Airbnb and Coca-Cola and he talked about authenticity as an enduring and compounding competitive advantage. I think this is something that will matter more and more. I think it will eventually catch up with those companies who forget that, especially in hospitality tech.

What is the best book you’ve read lately and why?

“The Outsiders” by Will Thorndike. I read it a couple of years ago and it continues to stand out to me. The book profiles eight understated CEOs who took a different approach to corporate management. These “outsider” CEOs often didn’t have the charisma that society has conditioned us to expect and were often in their position for the first time. Humble, unassuming and often frugal, they shied away from advisors and the hottest new management trends, instead focusing on a pragmatic and a disciplined approach to capital allocation which drove extraordinary returns. I found myself getting lost in each of their stories and admiring their independent thinking and patience to wait for the right opportunity. “Shoe Dog” and “Limping on Water” are two others I enjoyed.

What is your favorite podcast?

The top 3 for me right now are Farnam Street, Invest Like the Best, and Acquired. All the them have caused me to think differently and continually expand my curiosity.

What is one thing that most people don’t know about you?

I love yoga and meditation.

For all the startups that might want to pitch in TCV’s office, what can you tell them about your investment criteria?

We recently began investing out of TCV X, a $3 billion fund, so the opportunities we pursue are typically between $30–300M. We tend to be flexible on all other aspects of a transaction type and focus on category leadership potential and growth. I really enjoy spending time with entrepreneurs and would love for folks to reach out even if they are a bit early. Companies can scale quickly so we would love to start a relationship well in advance.


Originally published at https://hoteltechreport.com on May 2, 2019.

The views and opinions expressed in the post above are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). This post is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. This post is intended solely for prospective portfolio companies and their agents regarding TCV’s potential financing capabilities. The TCV portfolio companies identified above, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments, and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies/. For additional important disclaimers regarding this document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


The Xero Story: Building a Global Platform Out of New Zealand

We believe innovation and great entrepreneurs are everywhere. We’ve been fortunate to back some important technology franchises that were built outside of Silicon Valley. In particular, there’s a strong emerging software ecosystem coming out of Australia and New Zealand. We count two category leaders — SiteMinder in hotel management and Xero, a global leader in accounting software — in the TCV portfolio.

TCV GP David Yuan recently had a chance to chat with Rod Drury, Founder of Xero, about his take on building a business from the region. Rod and his team have created and scaled a massive SaaS platform for small businesses around the world that’s made Xero the largest tech company coming out of New Zealand.

Rod really packs in the lessons for growing companies, including:

  • The advantages of a small home market
  • How to build a global team and business from day one
  • Why Xero IPO’ed first and then scaled the business worldwide
  • How to make the journey its own reward

For this and a lot more, settle back and click play.

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


Toast Announces $250 Million Funding Led by TCV and Tiger Global Management

BOSTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Toast, the fastest-growing restaurant management platform in North America, announced today it raised $250 million in Series E funding at a $2.7 billion valuation led by TCV and Tiger Global Management along with participation from existing investors including Bessemer Venture Partners, Lead Edge Capital and funds and accounts managed by T. Rowe Price Associates, Inc. Following a period of tremendous growth – during which revenue increased 148 percent in 2018 – this fundraise establishes Toast as the leading restaurant management platform for restaurants of all sizes.

“At TCV, we invest in companies that have the potential to reshape entire industries. By providing restaurants of all sizes with access to innovative technology, Toast is leveling the playing field and leading the industry’s transition to the cloud,” said David Yuan, general partner at TCV. “Our investment will enable Toast to extend their platform beyond point-of-sale and guest-facing technology, and in doing so, create a powerful SaaS platform with a superlative business model. We’re excited to partner with Toast as they accelerate the growth of the community they serve.” TCV invested in some of the largest franchises in technology including ExactTarget, Facebook, Netflix, and Spotify; David Yuan will join Toast’s board of directors.

During the past year, the number of restaurants that selected Toast more than doubled as globally acclaimed brands like José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup and Tartine Bakery chose Toast in addition to high-growth concepts like Joe Coffee Company, Eggs Up Grill, JACKS Urban Eats, and The County Line.

“Last year we celebrated the five year anniversary of our first Toast customer, Barismo. Now with tens of thousands of restaurants powered by Toast – and nearly 1,500 employees serving our community – it’s impressive to see how far we’ve come,” said Chris Comparato, CEO of Toast. “At our core, we believe every restaurant should benefit from the massive investment we continue to make in restaurant technology.”

Leading the Industry’s Transition to the Cloud

Toast will invest over $1 billion in research and development — over the next five years — to continue building software and hardware designed specifically for the restaurant industry. The Series E investment will enable Toast to help solve some of the industry’s most pressing challenges:

  • Attracting, engaging, and retaining guests:Today, guests spend tens of billions of dollars at restaurants powered by Toast. Restaurants like SuViche already use solutions like Toast Go™ and Toast Guest Feedback to accelerate speed of service by up to 40 percent, increase revenue, and capture guest feedback in real-time. New guest marketing capabilities planned for 2019 will enable restaurateurs to deliver highly personalized offers and campaigns triggered by guest behavior.
  • Recruiting and retaining talent:Restaurants using Toast Point of Sale already benefit from higher sales, increased tips, and lower staff turnover. For example, with Toast Guest Facing Display, Broad Street Baking saw staff turnover significantly decrease as tips increased by 58 percent. New products planned for this year will simplify back-office operations and arm restaurateurs with tools to recruit, hire, and retain talent in a competitive labor market.
  • Improving operations and increasing profitability:Today, the Toast Platform processes over 2,500 requests per second across tens of thousands of restaurants. Through Toast Reporting and Analytics, restaurateurs can monitor the performance of their business in real-time –on any device — so they can run their business from anywhere. Investments planned in 2019 will provide restaurants with access to new reporting capabilities and insights.

Jeffrey Pandolfino, the owner of Green & Tonic, a five-location café in Connecticut, shared how Toast’s focus on the restaurant industry impacted his business: “As we outgrew our legacy point-of-sale-system, we needed a cloud-based platform to build our business on,” said Pandolfino. “With Toast, we’re not only processing orders faster, but we’ve also seen aspects of our business like catering and delivery grow by more than 50 percent.”

Recruiting Top Talent to Serve the Toast Community

In 2019, Toast significantly extended its presence with on-the-ground employees across the U.S. – in addition to engineering teams in Dublin, Ireland – by recruiting from the software, financial technology, and food & beverage industries. Funding from this latest investment will enable Toast to accelerate hiring across research and development, customer success, sales, and marketing to better serve the restaurant community. Interested candidates may find additional information on Toast career opportunities here.

Restaurant owners and operators can learn more about Toast and schedule a personalized demo here.

About Toast

Launched in 2013, Toast powers successful restaurants of all sizes with a technology platform that combines restaurant POS, front of house, back of house and guest-facing technology with a diverse marketplace of third-party applications. By pairing technology with an unrivaled commitment to customer success, Toast helps restaurants streamline operations, increase revenue and deliver amazing guest experiences. Toast was named to the 2019 Forbes Fintech 50, 2019 SXSW Interactive Innovation Finals, 2018 Forbes Cloud 100, and recognized as the third fastest-growing technology company in North America on the 2017 Deloitte Fast 500. Learn more at www.toasttab.com.

Contacts

Karen DeVincent-Reinbold
Sr. PR & communications manager at Toast
media@toasttab.com
857-301-6074

Katja Gagen
Principal and Head of Marketing at TCV
kgagen@tcv.com
415-690-6689


TCV Makes $200 Million Investment in Unified Retail Planning Pioneer RELEX Solutions

HELSINKI & MENLO PARK, Calif.–RELEX Solutions, a leading provider of unified retail planning solutions, today announced that TCV has made a $200 million minority investment in the company. TCV is one of the largest providers of capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry and has backed industry-leading companies, including Airbnb, Facebook, Netflix, Splunk, Spotify, WorldRemit and Zillow.

RELEX provides an end-to-end retail planning solution enabling companies to improve their competitiveness through accurate forecasting and replenishment, localized assortments, profitable use of space and optimized workforce planning. RELEX has consistently achieved 50 percent year on year growth and attracted leading brands across the globe including Coop Denmark, Franprix, MediaMarkt, Morrisons, PartyCity, Rossmann and WHSmith.

RELEX will use the funding to continue to fuel its successful growth. The company’s three founders, Mikko Kärkkäinen, Johanna Småros and Michael Falck, see the additional funding as a means of fulfilling their vision of changing the world of retail planning. The founders will stay in their senior management roles, remain significant shareholders and will continue to set the strategy and direction for the Company. RELEX’s existing investor Summit Partners will retain an equity stake in the business and will continue to hold a seat on the RELEX board of directors.

“The development of retail and supply chain planning has been held back by siloed organizations and limitations in how technologies integrate,” comments RELEX’s CEO Mikko Kärkkäinen. “Our vision is to change how the field works by driving a more responsive unified planning process. We are already off to a good start — now we will increase our speed by accelerating our product development ambitions, hiring more tech talent and investing further into the development of our organization as well as further expanding our retail-specific machine learning and AI capabilities that complement our core data processing platform.”

TCV’s General Partner John Doran says: “We seek to partner with businesses and management teams that are poised to grow to dominate global markets in their sectors. We are impressed by RELEX’s modern, highly flexible and cloud-based software, as well as its exceptional data processing performance. RELEX has very high customer satisfaction with customers benefitting from inventory and waste reduction, improved stock availability, more efficient goods handling and less time spent on ordering. We are aligned with the founders’ vision for RELEX and look forward to supporting the management team.”

“With a robust product and a keen focus on delivering ROI to customers, RELEX has built a significant customer base across numerous retail segments and geographies. We are thrilled to continue our partnership with RELEX and delighted to welcome TCV,” adds Han Sikkens, a Managing Director with Summit Partners.

About RELEX

RELEX Solutions is dedicated to helping retail businesses improve their competitiveness through localized assortments, profitable use of retail space, accurate forecasting and replenishment, and optimized workforce planning. Our SaaS solutions deliver quick return on investment and can be used independently or jointly for unified retail planning, enabling cross-functional optimization of retail’s core processes: merchandising, supply chain and store operations. RELEX Solutions is trusted by leading brands including WHSmith, Morrisons, AO.com, Coop Denmark and Rossmann, and has offices across North America and Europe. For more information go to: www.relexsolutions.com

About TCV

Founded in 1995, TCV provides capital to growth-stage private and public companies in the technology industry. Since inception, TCV has invested over $10 billion in leading technology companies and has helped guide CEOs through more than 115 IPOs and strategic acquisitions. TCV’s investments include Airbnb, Altiris, AxiomSL, Believe, Dollar Shave Club, EmbanetCompass, EtQ, ExactTarget, Expedia, Facebook, Fandango, GoDaddy, HomeAway, LinkedIn, Netflix, OSIsoft, Rent the Runway, Sitecore, Splunk, Sportradar, Spotify, TourRadar, Varsity Tutors, WorldRemit and Zillow. TCV is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, with offices in New York and London. For more information about TCV, including a complete list of TCV investments, visit https://www.tcv.com/.

Contacts

Alexandra Sevelius
Head of Marketing and Communications, RELEX Solutions
Phone: +358 45 674 4949
Email: alexandra.sevelius@relexsolutions.com

Katja Gagen
Head of Marketing, TCV
Phone: +1415 690 6689
Email: kgagen@tcv.com


Making Mobile Magical = Selling Without Sales Reps

When the world flipped from desktop to mobile, consumer brands made an often painful, but highly profitable pivot. It stood to reason that high-velocity B2B software companies could likewise take advantage of the big shift to mobile. Platform trends make for disruptive go-to-market models, right?

Many tried, but few have succeeded. SafetyCulture is one of the few that thrived. At TCV’s annual growth offsite, David Yuan, GP at TCV, caught up with Luke Anear, CEO and founder of SafetyCulture, to talk through his path. Luke is not only building a disruptive mobile-SaaS company. He’s also one of the most interesting entrepreneurs. Over dinner, he shared his career as a private investigator, nearly losing his shirt as a spec boxing match promoter and working as a videographer for Tony Robbins.

For an inside story on how SafetyCulture reached high-level scale and a compelling market position on the back of a mobile-first product, settle back and click play.

 

Dave Yuan: I’m a general partner at TCV. I’ve been passionate about this conversion between consumer, internet and enterprise software go-to-market models. We’ve been exploring this intersection for the past decade. This past Summer I had Luke, the founder and CEO of SafteyCulture, join us at our offsite and talk through mobile first. SafetyCulture’s reached a high-level scale, great growth, and a really interesting market position on the back of a mobile-first product, monetization, and go-to-market strategy. Hey, Luke. Thanks for joining us today. Good to have you this Summer.

Luke Anear: Thanks, David. Yeah. Nice to be chatting to you.

David Yuan: Well, I know the topic for today is mobile, but before we jump into it, give us a snapshot in SafetyCulture.

Luke Anear: SafetyCulture created the checklist app that allowed teams to be able to do inspections and take photos and build workflow around maintaining standards in the workplace. And originally, it was based on purely safety and helping people go home at the end of the day, but today it’s across quality and really anywhere that teams are trying to maintain a high standard in the work they do. I think it collects about 400 million responses a year now through the app, and we’ve built a pretty interesting database now which allows us to benchmark and understand how well teams are managing risk and also how they can improve performance.

David Yuan: Awesome. Can you give us a sense of size? You know, customers or whatnot. Just so folks know the level of scale you’ve reached because it’s been impressive to watch you grow.

Luke Anear: Sure. We service about 70,000 organizations, and the team– we’ve got about 280 people on our team and we’re in most of the developed countries around the world. And people use us across all sorts of different industries from transport and logistics, to hotels, to Starbucks stores making sure they’re clean and look good every day. It’s a pretty broad spectrum of customers that we interact with.

David Yuan: That’s impressive. Okay. Well, the topic is mobile. On the consumer internet side, obviously, over the past 5, 10 years, we’ve gone through this often times painful pivot from desktop to mobile. But generally, that’s where the world is on the consumer side. Mobile is everything at this point, or at least for right now. Why hasn’t that happened in the enterprise software market?

Luke Anear: I think the people who buy software are typically still taking directives from management and it makes sense that they want to be able to get certainty from what they buy and so that’s based on traditional sales processes, people promising a lot with their software and then quite often they’re not quite coming to fruition over an extended period of time. We’re really empowering more operations and field-based people to do their jobs better and once they get traction with that, then it’s hard to stop. So I think we’re seeing more and more examples of that, but there’s still a long way to go. Enterprise is slow to adopt things. There’s a lot of stakeholders and so, I guess, companies like SafetyCulture being able to Trojan Horse our way in and then navigate through that process without having to be negotiating and trying to sell software to anyone. It’s a pretty fun time.

David Yuan: Absolutely. You’re obviously successful now but when you were getting going, when you were getting started, why do you think Mobile First would work as an approach for your product?

Luke Anear: I think you go back to around 2011-2012 when we started looking at this. It was really the point where everyday workers now had this computer in the pocket.  We heard the term before but when you think back, the iPhone came out in ’07, and it took three or four years really for people who weren’t sitting in front of computers to get that level of penetration. It was around 2011 that we went, “I think the timing is right for us to provide a tool that everyday people can pick up and build a workflow and start implementing”. The hypothesis was would these people be comfortable enough to even download software.  It turns out most of them, because they had never been involved in buying software and they didn’t know the rules about buying software and using software. And so they just would do it and other people would tell each other that that’s what they’re using and so word had spread. It’s worked well for us.

David Yuan: That’s great. I imagine when you were getting started that the first step was getting individual use, so getting that download. And we have seen quite a bit of that level of traction. But very few companies get the broad adoption that SafetyCulture has achieved within a company or organization. How did you do it? Was it intentional? Was it organic or a mix of both?

Luke Anear: Probably a little bit of luck in there as well. We focused pretty much on solving a specific problem for the workers out in the field trying to do their job, trying to manage risks so, it’s kind of like the field manager, is probably the person we targeted. And, essentially, they became our champions. They were our salesforce in a sense where they would all of a sudden feel that they’ve got this new superpower, and they can share that across and up and down through their business and that one thing would lead to another. Because they were able to articulate the benefits so well internally, they could steamroll over the top of IT policies or any of the normal barriers. We’re not going to stop using this. You guys are going to figure out how to make it work because we love it.

That was really the secret to our growth, that we were empowering those people. They had asked us for slide decks to present to their management. We still get asked that all the time from people like what materials can I use to present? It’s a marketer’s dream where you’ve got people who are your customers, who are working hard for us to roll it out because it makes their lives better. And that was really quite something I hadn’t seen before, when we saw that happening.

David Yuan: So I understand it, people are looking for help from SafetyCulture to present to the internal procurement folks or help to actually present the work that they’ve created in SafetyCulture to be consumed by upper levels?

Luke Anear: Interestingly, from a growth point of view, they’re pitching our software to their internal management. They’re literally doing pitches. They’ve got the decks up and they’re saying, “Here’s the company. Here’s how many users they have. These are the companies that use it. These are the use cases.” And then they bring their own use case in and “this is how we’re using it. We want everyone here to be using it.” It’s just a phenomenal thing to kind of watch. You kind of pinch yourself and think: How did ever even happen? Because we never had salespeople and, yet, these people were using our products and selling it for us.

David Yuan: Absolutely. I played around with your product a little bit. It strikes me, that there’s that elegance to it. The product really works well for an individual user, but it feels like the more people on SafetyCulture in my organization, the greater the power. And so how do you incent that team adoption?

Luke Anear: The path to getting them to adopt it across their team gets accelerated when we get more people doing it, particularly early on. That’s been an area that we were focused on in terms of onboarding and getting people up to speed as quickly they can, inviting other people on their team. That’s when things start to move. Frankly, if they’re a three- or a four-person team, they’re never going to experience incredible benefits from it compared to 1,000-person team. We want to help them get to 1,000.

David Yuan: That’s where you set the paywall.

Luke Anear: Yes, we move around the paywall and look at different things. You see churn come down once it gets stickier once more people are using it, and that’s when the value increases for them. So we focus on getting them to that point.

David Yuan: Are there other elements of the paywall? One, obviously, is users, which we describe, where the trade-off is monetization and adoption and churn, like you just walked through, but are there other elements of the paywall that you either experimented with or currently employ now?

Luke Anear: We’ve tried usage limits and things like that. We still have a usage limit for users in terms of how much they can collect and store, but I always try and push the free line out on that. And we’ve played around with a certain number of inspections and things like that and then you hit a paywall. But I try not to put shackles on the experience as much as possible. There are companies that try and extract money at every opportunity, and then there are companies that want to see you do well, firstly, and then we’ll give you opportunities to pay for more. And I think we take that seriously. It’s not something that we kind of sit back and say, “Let’s get at every dollar we possibly can.” We always leave quite a bit on the table from that point of view because we value that experience more than we value getting every dollar that we can.

David Yuan: Absolutely. Can we double-click a little bit on that because I think a lot of companies aspire to have that customer intimacy and insight but as you scale, it can be quite difficult to capture those voices in a way that cuts through at all. Are there specific things that you guys do to make sure you stay close to the customer voice on this like paywall on product and other aspects?

Luke Anear: Yeah. Like engagement metrics are probably the strongest signal on that. And you want to see at what points do people get their real sort of aha moments or wow moments. And building the experience towards those moments, that’s kind of key, and so understanding and breaking down what are the points where people achieve a certain level of interaction so that we can either accelerate the time to that moment or increase the peak of that moment. People remember the peaks of the experience and that’s what brings them back. And sometimes it’s simple things. It’s often not necessarily what we value. It could be a PDF report, for example, that’s got photos in it. That’s the most basic thing from a tech point of view. But from our customer’s point of view, they used to take photos on their phone and then type stuff up in Microsoft Word and then put it all in. And now magically, it kind of happens.

David Yuan: That’s great. If the broader topic is mobile, it leads us down a line of thinking, which is providing discreet value or utility value or great experience through individual user. As we talked about, as you deploy more broadly into organizations, you start bringing teams online. When you think about the features or the product experiences that really drive joy for an organization, are they different than the specific user experiences or are things like analytics or benchmarking?  Do they become more central? How do you think about the overall organizational experience to complement the user experience?

Luke Anear: I think collecting data for the sake of it is no one’s outcome. And so it’s about, what are the decisions we can make with this data? How do we get the insights? Or how does this make us more intelligent or smarter? That’s ultimately the goal. And the more that we can do that proactively and the less burden that we place on the organization to have to understand the data and make sense of it, the easier it is for them to be able to adopt it and share it. For us, collecting, having an incredible front-end user experience, is part of it. That makes it easy to collect information. But then how do you take a position on what information is important? And I think we’ve seen a lot of BI tools and stuff, where people can pivot and do all sorts of stuff with their data, but I don’t think that’s enough anymore. And for us, it’s about understanding our customers, so that we take a position on what data is going to be most valuable to them. And then we shape the experience around that and really serve up those decisions for them on a platter. They essentially want to know, our customers want to know, what’s working well across their teams today? What’s not working well?

And importantly, what do we do about that? Understanding just those three basic questions drives a lot of the decision-making for us around how do we present this information back? And how do we make it easy for them to get the insights that help them run their business? And make it easy for your customers to get value from that data and those insights. That takes a deep understanding of the customer to do that. And also, when you do it well, it increases the competitive barrier for other people to come in, because a lot of them just take the easy way out and go, “Let’s just allow everybody to pivot, however they want to pivot the data.” And that just creates work for our customers. They’re like, “Don’t create work for me. Make it easy for me.”

David Yuan: I love it. The same intensive focus on consumer experience at the individual user level extending into the team level and ultimately the enterprise level. That makes a lot of sense. And do you see that progression as SafetyCulture is adopted in your customer? Do you see that progression naturally mirroring monetization? Is there a certain point in which that you realize that experiences gone from the individual now to the team, now to the organization, where it does make more sense to consider different paywalls or different levels of monetization?

Luke Anear: Yes. And it also gives you opportunities to add value layers on top of that. We can mix that data with other data sets. We now do IoT and sensor-based hardware as well, which collects data that we layer in on top. When you sit back and take a position on what’s valuable, you’re then in a great place to decide what else is relevant, and what else can we provide that’s going to be helpful? A lot of thought goes into that, and our customers have got other data that’s valuable. And we’ve mixed data with customer satisfaction data, and we can see uplifts in CSAT when people are doing regular checks and inspections. It becomes multi-dimensional.

David Yuan: We’ve talked about being super intentional about the user experience from individual users to team to organizations. We’ve talked about monetization along those same dynamics. Let’s shift gears a little bit to go-to-market. So, initially, most bottoms-up premium models are all marketing and, primarily, organic marketing. When did you get the conviction to start really leaning into paid marketing, if you have, and when did you start thinking through hiring that next layer of expense, those inside sales reps? You’re moving from a very organic business to more a traditional software model over time, so when did you know that it was time to start putting some money to work?

Luke Anear: I think we’re still getting there actually. We haven’t spent a lot on acquisition and that. We do a little bit on content and things, but I think we’re still at the beginning of that journey. I probably can’t offer much in that sort of area, but in terms of inside sales, we have in the last 12 months, had people who are now focused on our existing customers and helping them get more value and expand and accelerate their path to value. We now will pick up the phone and chat with people. We never used to do that. I think for about the first 40,000 organizations, we never picked up the phone and spoke to them unless they specifically wanted to talk to us about something.

Because we’re a fairly low price point, it doesn’t make sense for us to try and have someone closing every sale. We’ve always got to sort of separate that out and make sure that our organic growth engine is strong. And that makes everything else easier. If you’ve got a product that sells itself and that can be adopted and self-served, then when you come to talk to a customer they’ve already got their own case study. We’re very conscious of that. We never want to be just saying, “Well, let’s just build out massive amount of salespeople,” and that becomes your growth engine. For us, it’s all about the organic adoption and then expanding that adoption and making sure that they’re getting maximum value from it. That’s a conscious choice and something we’re continuing to find a balance on.

David Yuan: You’re the envy of probably 90% of the software world, to be a product-led go-to-market, that’s fantastic. In terms of your customer success and customer support, it sounds like you think about those heads or that expense on a return-on-investment basis. But my guess is you aren’t actually compensating them on sales. Are you assigning quota to your customer success reps or is it purely organic?

Luke Anear: Not for the most part. There are a couple now of account execs, two or three or something. But all the rest are just focused on helping the customer and doing what they do. So yeah, there’s probably a place for it, I think, as we continue to grow. And talking particulars, we never actually sold a big, upfront deal, in terms of 1,000 seats or something, until just probably seven months ago was the first time we’d even done 500-seat deal. It was always only just one user and then they expanded up to thousands. And now that we’ve got companies that come to us and say, “Look, we want to start with 2,000 users.” That’s where the account execs can have that conversation and it makes sense to have a quota for them. But that’s a new area for us.

David Yuan: The beauty of your business, and as we talk through it becomes more and more explicit, is that SafetyCulture is following a different playbook. It’s a different software business model. As you think about the mobile opportunity and the bottoms-up opportunity, do those apply to traditional application software companies? Are there things that a traditional app company can learn from SafetyCulture, or is it really a grounds-up business model and grounds-up product model?

Luke Anear: That’s a good question. What we’re seeing from a lot of the established desktop or legacy players is that they’re trying to extend their software to mobile. And I think at best all they’re going to do is sort of keep their current customer because their current customer wants them on mobile. You’ve got a lot of luxuries on desktop. There’s more real estate. You have typically people who sit in front of a computer for at least a good part of their day. Those luxuries don’t exist with mobile. People are on the move. They’re out and about.

Where we see companies struggle is when they’re simply extending the functionality, or even a reduced functionality, of their desktop experience. You need to be able to step back and think about that user as a different customer. You’ve got to break down what they do in their day, what their outcomes are, and how can we do that. And that may be an extension of some of our software. Or it could be a completely different experience.

We want to get them out of our app as fast as we can with the outcome they want. Whereas a lot of the time, people think about trying to keep people in their software for longer. We’re trying to help them get on with the things they need to do, and that means get them in and get them out so that they can get on with their day.

David Yuan: Absolutely. If it is a truly generational shift and it’s a new category of application companies, who else is doing this well? Who else besides SafetyCulture do you look to, do you admire, that inspires you from a mobile product standpoint?

Luke Anear: I think for enterprise software to do well, you’ve got to solve a particular problem. There’s an Aussie company, Canva for Work, which is a design experience for teams. They’re doing great. There are obvious ones like Intercom, where I can now see what customers are saying and how we’re interacting with them. I can deal with stuff. And then you’ve got other guys, Trello, which is part of Atlassian now. I think there’s a mix. But I think the key thing is not necessarily to follow some of these others. Canva for Work is very different to us, as is Slack and Intercom, and so while there might be similarities in some of the functionality, the outcome that they deliver, those peaks and those moments for customers are completely different. There’s a few around that we looked at. But I think that the biggest clues will come from your customer base and understanding that more than admiring what other mobile-first companies have achieved or mobile experiences are on offer.

David Yuan: Good point. You’re a global business. SafetyCulture is a global business, but you were founded in Australia and as we look at product-led software companies, a preponderance of them are actually coming out of Australia and New Zealand. What’s going on? Is there something in the water? Is there something foundational going on in your neck of the woods that make for these beautiful UI product-led business models?

Luke Anear: I think the simple answer is probably we never had the money that you guys had in the U.S. and so we just had to figure it out. And we didn’t have that kind of luxury of time and great investors that would just be backing us from the beginning. We had to really get traction and prove out a business model before people would even take any notice of us. I think that’s played a part for a while. And then there’s a couple of other factors as well. We never had the experience or the talent, really, in Australia. No one really had the belief on how you could scale a company from your garage. You’d hear about it, but it was always in the U.S. Now there are more examples, people are starting to realize what’s possible. And we’re also seeing a lot more talent coming back to Australia that had left. There’s 24,000 Australians working in the Bay Area. You’re seeing more and more of those come home. And then we’re seeing other people from all around the world realizing that there’s now a pretty healthy tech community, and it’s like doubling every couple of years. Sydney’s got at least twice as much talent as it had two years ago and we’re seeing that continue. It’s a number of factors all coagulating together to make it a better outcome for us all, but we’re still going to work hard. And as much as people think we’re out surfing at the beach all day, we’re doing some long days and hard work to get it done.

David Yuan: Absolutely. The good news is, the market certainly has noticed and I’ve been taking that 14-hour flight for the past five years looking for companies like yours, so the world has noticed. And congratulations to that whole ecosystem. This has been awesome, Luke. Really appreciate all the great thoughts.

Maybe stepping back from business a little bit, you lived a super interesting life in addition to being a successful entrepreneur. Taking a step back from SafetyCulture, what are you most interested in the business world or even outside of the business world?

Luke Anear: Well, a couple of things. I think travel is so accessible now to everyone fortunately, compared to previous generations, that your ability to go and experience different culture or different part of the world is greater than ever. I think that’s super exciting. I have a very curious mind, I love learning from different people, and cultures, and stuff. So anytime I can get exposed to the way other people doing things, that’s something I always look for. In terms of a broader business world, I think it’s great to see the amount of wealth that individuals are amassing, Bezos and different people, and even what we saw Warren Buffet doing with Bill Gates. I think to see them now harnessing that and channeling it towards solving really complex and big problems around the world that perhaps governments in the past would take responsibility for but just can’t anymore. I think to see that and these examples being set for everyone that’s following, is something that I look up to and think that’s making the world a better place. I think the more social conscious we become and the deep desire for people to want to improve the world around them, and make life better for other people, I think more of that that’s happening, the better. It’s just a great time to be alive.

David Yuan: Absolutely. 100%. Luke, thank you so much for your time and your thoughts. This is fantastic and congrats on all your successes at SafetyCulture.

Luke Anear: Thanks, David. Much appreciated.

 

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The statements, views, and opinions expressed are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). TCV has not verified the accuracy of any statements by the speakers and disclaims any responsibility therefor. This interview is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The TCV portfolio companies identified, if any, are not necessarily representative of all TCV investments and no assumption should be made that the investments identified were or will be profitable. For a complete list of TCV investments, please visit www.tcv.com/all-companies. For additional important disclaimers, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.


The Guts and Glory of Category Creation

Customer Success is an established concept these days. Harvard Business Review has written about it. There are how-to guides online, and “Customer Success” even has its own Wikipedia page. Customer Success Manager positions, are among the fastest growing in the titles in the US. Customer Success is definitely a “thing” now.

The rise of Customer Success didn’t happen organically. Nick Mehta and the rest of the Gainsight team put the Customer Success category on the map through a deliberate and inspired effort.

In this Q&A, TCV GP David Yuan and Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta share lessons on the pros and cons, and the key success drivers of building an entirely new category of enterprise software.

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David Yuan: Let’s start with the basics. What is Customer Success, and what made you think it was a big enough problem space in which you could create a large company?

Nick Mehta: Most companies today either already have or are transitioning to a subscription-based business model, so that means retaining and providing value to your existing customers is more important than ever. That’s where Customer Success comes in—when you’re proactively engaging with customers, you’re able to stay ahead of customer churn and even discover other opportunities to provide more value and upsell. And you know all of that ends up increasing renewal rates and ARR. It’s really cool to see more and more businesses recognizing its value.

David Yuan: And why did you think it deserved its own category? You could have fit in a number of existing categories. Why try to create your own?

Nick Mehta: Yeah, Customer Success has been confused with customer support, customer service, professional services, or account management, but really, it’s a mash-up of those functions. Early on we didn’t know what to call it. Honestly, if you said “Customer Success Manager” to somebody back then, nobody would have any idea what you were talking about. But we knew we were looking at a new discipline for the next generation of businesses—something that’s at the intersection of customer support, service, customer analytics, customer machine learning, etc. They do share some similarities, but the fundamental shift is going from reactive (waiting for the phone call) to proactive (owning the customer’s outcome).

We could have attached ourselves to a category like account management and become a boring old company that’s somehow related to customer support. Many people actually tried to push us into those types of categories. Fortunately, we stuck to our gut because we knew none of those were a fit.

David Yuan:  To be honest, category creation is a little bit a of a flashback to the 1990’s when Ariba and i2 spent gobs of money making procurement and supply chain sexy. Hmm, must have been an interesting discussion with investors…

Nick Mehta: Yeah, people didn’t like it. Not only because of the potential expense with creating awareness, but also because they thought Customer Success was too much of a niche. That putting ourselves in the category would box us in.

David Yuan: Were they wrong?

Nick Mehta: Yes and no. It was certainly an obscure area, but we truly believed it could get big. So we went down that path and became very passionate about building the Customer Success company—we decided to go all in.

David Yuan: So how did you define scope? Define it tightly and you have 100% market share and no TAM, define it broadly and you have big TAM and you compete against everyone. In picking scope you get to pick who you compete with today and potential in the future, as well as who may view you as a strategic acquisition. Was this all in the plans, how intentional was your scope?

Nick Mehta: Really good question and we still wrestle with it. I think we embraced the concept early on of focusing on a very specific market (subscription) and persona (Customer Success). Many people said “your TAM will be limited” because of this. But the reality is that that market and persona have grown radically. So I think the lesson is there is a tradeoff to focus but it’s less of a tradeoff if the “niche” has a big tailwind behind it.

David Yuan: And how did you actually put on a name on the category. Customer Success actually feels really nature–simple and non-technical, yet distinctive.

Nick Mehta: We actually had a lot of debate about naming it because there were existing categories that we could have slotted into. Friends of the company suggested we call it “customer artificial intelligence.” Others told us we should call it “customer insights” or “customer machine learning.” But none of those fit for our vision.

We noticed Salesforce had a team of “Customer Success Managers” that had like 80 people in it and were starting to hire more, and when we saw this new job and description it made sense to us. There was also a small community of folks who met in online forums and around local offices in the Bay Area who really resonated with this Customer Success message.

David Yuan: It’s one thing to put a category name out there—most companies attempt to do that, but most are unsuccessful. How did you turn a Gainsight term into the category label?

Nick Mehta: We said to ourselves that we were going to create and really own the industry. We facilitated the creation of a community. With their help, we created best practices. We described what a Customer Success Manager does, how you pay them, and who they report to. We even published a book about the entire discipline. And we’re still helping define roles and titles based on the trends we’re seeing.

At first we wanted to do what a lot of enterprise software companies do: host a conference with our customers. The problem was that we didn’t have any customers, so a conference would have been depressing!  So instead of doing a company event, we decided to do an industry event. We focused on Customer Success Management, not our company per se. We said, let’s connect with other players in this still-young industry. We called the event “Pulse.” It was the most important thing we ever did as a company. When we sent out invites, we thought we’d get maybe 50 people to attend. Instead, 300 showed up the first year. Just to show you how fast this industry has grown, this year, our sixth year, we had over 5,000 people show up.

We’re not that big of a company, but our conference brand—Pulse—has become very big. We even expanded globally. We have a conference in London and we’re planning to continue that, and we’re hosting our first Pulse in Australia later this year.

David Yuan: Why do you think Pulse was so successful?

Nick Mehta: In order to create a category, we needed to create a community, and Pulse helped do just that. Fundamentally, in a new profession, people want to meet others “like them.” So Pulse has become in some ways like eHarmony for Customer Success.

David Yuan: Is it as expensive as it sounds?

Nick Mehta: Yeah, don’t do this if you’re bootstrapping. I don’t think it’d be possible since it’s not cheap. We raised $156 million in venture capital from investors who believed we could create this new marketplace. We were fortunate to receive their support because it allowed us to really distance ourselves from the little competition we had.

David Yuan: You’ve cultivated this community, so now what?

Nick Mehta: We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the people in the Pulse community. The terms “thought leadership” and “content marketing” have often been cheapened into thinly-veiled advertisement and we tried to change that. We strived to focus on the issues on the minds of people in Customer Success – from compensation to org models to career paths. We built a job board and an online university to help serve the career needs of our community.  At the end of the day, it’s fundamentally about the people.

David Yuan: How do you hire in an industry that’s so new?

Nick Mehta: Trying and failing. That’s the challenge. There is no playbook or existing job description to follow. So in the early days, we really focused on our value of “Shoshin” (Beginner’s Mind) – people that were creative and willing to learn.

David Yuan: You’ve said that you don’t sweat the competition. Why not?

Nick Mehta: In a new market, it’s not about the competition. It’s about creating the market. Our competition is inertia and ignorance.

David Yuan: Why don’t you have more competition?

Nick Mehta: In some new markets, the “friction” to get started is very high. In our example, you need to build a complex product AND a new profession!

David Yuan: You’ve put a lot of attention on your company’s culture. What have you done and why is it important?

Nick Mehta: When you’re creating a category, your culture is doubly important – it’s the framework for your company AND for your community. One of our core values is Childlike Joy, which basically means we want people to embrace their inner kid and bring the kid in you to work. We really lean into our community with that. We’ve done all kinds of fun things. We wrote a children’s storybook for CS professionals to explain to their kids what they do at work. We also do a lot of things with music, like create a Customer Success version of a Taylor Swift song, a rap song, a musical, and even carpool karaoke with Aaron Levie from Box and Keith Krach from Docusign. We also had Vanilla Ice at one of our Pulse conferences. Actually, there was a time that if you googled Gainsight, it literally listed our company as a musical artist in the hip-hop/rap genre. #lifegoal

David Yuan: Ha! I’ll have to check it out. Vanilla Ice, that’s when you know you’ve made it. You’ve come a long way from ‘nerding’ out at Harvard, my man!

Nick Mehta: Yeah!

David Yuan: Awesome, thanks Nick. Really proud of what you’re doing at Gainsight and appreciate your sharing some of your learnings!

Nick Mehta: Awesome! Thank you for having me.

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The views and opinions expressed in the transcript above are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of TCMI, Inc. or its affiliates (“TCV”). This transcript is not an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase an interest in any private fund managed or sponsored by TCV or any of the securities of any company discussed. The companies discussed above are not necessarily TCV portfolio companies and are not necessarily representative of any TCV investments. For additional important disclaimers regarding this document, please see “Informational Purposes Only” in the Terms of Use for TCV’s website, available at http://www.tcv.com/terms-of-use/.