Thursday, January 15, 2015

Announcing our investment in ChartMogul

The big guy who's lifting Nick is Michael Hansen,
Zendesk's first employee and a co-investor in ChartMogul
As reported by TechCrunch, we’ve led a seed round in ChartMogul. We’re thrilled about the investment. The decision to invest in ChartMogul, which has developed an analytics solution for subscription businesses, was a very easy one. Here’s why:

1) ChartMogul was founded by Nick Franklin, an early Zendesk employee. As employee #6, Nick has headed Zendesk’s activities in the EMEA region for two years before leading the company’s expansion into Asia for another (almost) three years. I knew that Nick has done a fantastic job at Zendesk and knew that he was an extremely entrepreneurial, hard-working, well-rounded, smart and nice guy. So when Nick told me a few months ago that he’s leaving Zendesk to start his own startup, I was sad for Zendesk but also very keen on learning more about his new gig.

2) ChartMogul is solving a problem which we at Point Nine know very well. We talk to SaaS startups on a daily basis, and almost all of them either have significant trouble getting comprehensive, accurate and consistent metrics or they had to make huge investments (especially into developer man-months) to get reasonably solid data.

When I put together my SaaS metrics dashboard almost two years ago, I drastically underestimated how difficult it is for companies to retrieve all of the relevant data. It sounds very easy in theory, but as we (and many SaaS founders) have painfully learned over the last years, in practice it’s very hard. I’ve heard from several SaaS founders that when they’ve found my SaaS dashboard template, they loved me for creating and open-sourcing the dashboard. But that love turned into hate when they found out, often over months, how hard it is to fill the template with real data. :-) The difficulties include getting and consistently matching data from multiple sources, dealing with complicated billing scenarios, addressing all kinds of exceptions and many more – I’ll let Nick follow-up with an in-depth post on that topic.

ChartMogul is solving that pain. You connect ChartMogul with your billing system (Stripe, Braintree, Chargify or Recurly) and at the click of a button, the product will show you almost any SaaS metric that you want to see, including the SaaS KPIs from my dashboard. But ChartMogul is not only a productized version my dashboard template. Since you can slice and dice all the data that you see on the screen, ChartMogul allows you to get many more insights. If you’re a SaaS company, go check it out!

3) We’re convinced that SaaS will continue to grow very fast throughout the decade and beyond, so the company is addressing a large and growing market. What’s more, while ChartMogul is initially focused on B2B SaaS companies, the solution is equally relevant for any kind of business with subscription revenue, which expands the company’s TAM even further.

So if you happen to provide a subscription service for “authentic T-shirts from the best bars”, curated items for nerds, emergency supplies or, well, dope, ChartMogul’s got you covered. ;-) (seriously - these services all exist, and many more)

What's table stakes in SaaS, anno 2015

Yesterday I shot off a Tweetstorm about some important developments that I'm observing in the SaaS world as we're entering 2015. While a Tweetstorm is a nice way of gently breaking the 140 character limit, I thought it would make sense to follow-up with a blog post.

The point that I made was that most of the tactics which smart SaaS entrepreneurs developed around 2007-2009 – inbound marketing, conversion optimization, lifecycle marketing, etc. – and which gave them a competitive edge at that time can no longer be used to gain a competitive advantage. This doesn't mean that you should ignore these strategies. It's exactly the contrary – you have to do all of this, and you have to do it excellently. But it doesn't mean you'll win, it's necessary just for having a seat at the table.

The whole concept of the "consumerization of the enterprise" and everything that comes with it was very new a couple of years ago. As I've written before, when Mikkel told me how Zendesk was doing sales and marketing in 2008, I was intrigued but also slightly confused. Most of the terms like content marketing, inbound marketing or growth hacking didn't even exist yet or weren't widely used.

Today, an incredible amount of knowledge on how to build a SaaS company is available online. Jason M. Lemkin alone has answered more than 1100 (!) mostly SaaS-related questions on Quora, drawing from his experience in founding EchoSign and scaling it to $100M in ARR. Between his website and the blogs of David Skok, Tomasz TunguzJoel York and others you'll find great answers to almost every SaaS question that you can think of. In addition, there's a large number of excellent blogs and resources to learn about more specialized topics such as inbound marketing, landing page optimization, customer success, marketinggrowth hacking, more growth hacking, product strategy and every other imaginable topic. Processing all of that information and prioritizing and applying the learnings is of course difficult, but at least the information is there.

Besides that, companies like Totango, Gainsight and Intercom have taken some of the ideas of the first generation of consumerized SaaS entrepreneurs and turned them into great products which make it easy to analyze, segment and communicate with your users. Customer success is not the only area which saw the emergence of "SaaS for SaaS" solutions – there are now dedicated products for subscription billing and subscription analytics, too. And then there are of course great solutions for everything from multi-touch attribution to A/B testing to lead scoring.

What that means is that in 2015 there's no excuse for not understanding your metrics, for not doing great content marketing, for not being focused on customer success, for being clueless about sales and marketing or other rookie mistakes. I don't intend to sound harsh. It's the market which is harsh. All that knowledge, all those tools, it's all available to your competitors as well, and that's what's raising the table stakes.

So how can SaaS entrepreneurs get ahead of the pack in 2015? I'll leave that for another post (and I'm happy to hear about your ideas!).

Monday, January 05, 2015

The #P9Family is hiring

At the beginning of December we had the idea that it would be cool to put together a "recruiting advent calendar" with job openings from within the Point Nine Family. Each day until the 24th of December, we'd showcase one job opportunity from a portfolio company, along with a referral bonus or prize for successful referrals.

Our portfolio companies surprised us with some amazing referral prizes. Please take a look at the list below, and if you know any awesome people who might be interested in a career change in 2015, let me know!

Without further ado (and apologies for the brag), here are some of the greatest opportunities in tech in 2015:

riskmethods is hiring a Ruby on Rails Developer
Referral bonus: A trip to Oktoberfest! (everything but flight included)
Tweet it!

Kreditech is looking for a Head of Group & German Taxes
Referral bonus: One monthly salary of the new employee!
Tweet it!

Contentful needs a Technical Product Manager
Referral bonus: A weekend trip to Berlin!
Tweet it!

15Five wants a Front-End Developer
Referral bonus: A round trip flight to anywhere (up to $2,000)!
Tweet it!

Contentful has an open position for a Sales Manager
Referral bonus: A weekend trip to Berlin!
Tweet it!

15Five wants a Business Development Rep
Referral bonus: A round trip flight to anywhere (up to $2,000)!
Tweet it!

Contactually is on the hunt for a VP of Engineering
Referral bonus: $1,000 to the referrer and $1,000 to a charity of his/her choosing
Tweet it!

Vend is looking for a VP of Global Sales Operations
Referral bonus: Return economy ticket to New Zealand

Referral bonus: A trip to Paris, flight & accommodation included

Do you know a VP of Marketing for Gengo?
Referral bonus: A trip to Tokyo for 2!

Westwing is hiring a Global Head of Product Management and User Experience
Referral bonus: An iPad or iPhone 6+!

Positionly is looking for an Account Executive
Referral bonus: A trip to Warsaw!

Referral bonus: A trip to Tokyo for 2!

Mambu is hiring an Account Manager
Referral bonus: Apple iWatch Sports Edition (as soon as it's released!)

Referral bonus: iPad Mini

Typeform is looking for a CMO
Referral bonus: A weekend in sunny Barcelona!

Referral bonus: A Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadcopter!

15Five is searching for a Front End Growth Hacker
Referral bonus: A round trip flight to anywhere (up to $2,000)!

ServerDensity has an open position for a Technical Account Manager
Referral bonus: One year supply of English-grown Earl Grey Tea!

DocPlanner is looking for a Product Manager
Referral bonus: A party weekend in Warsaw for 2!

Referral bonus: An iPad or iPhone 6+!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

2014 in the numbers – fun stats from the #P9Family

It's that time of the year again, the blogosphere is full of reviews of the year that is coming to a close and predictions for the coming year. When it comes to predictions, I agree with Niels Bohr (or Mark Twain or various other people who the quote got attributed to): Prediction is difficult, especially about the future. Seriously, as Paul Graham just wrote in his latest essay, change is notoriously (and tautologically) hard to predict.

So let me take the safer path, take a look back at 2014 and show you some stats from the Point Nine family of startups. Some are true KPIs, others are from the fun/vanity metrics department – but I believe all of them are impressive and inspiring. Enormous gratitude goes to all the extremely hard-working and talented people in the #P9Family. You rocked this year (and not only this year)!

(If you're reading this post in an email client or RSS reader, the infographic below might not display correctly. In that case please go to the Web version.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing: The One-Slide Update Deck

When we start to work with a new portfolio company, one of the things we always suggest is that in addition to (sometimes lots of) ad hoc communication via eMail, Skype, Basecamp, etc. we set up a standing meeting or call, at least during the first 9-12 months following our investment. Typically it's a one-hour monthly call, and the purpose of these calls is to get us updated and to talk through current issues. Our experience is that these calls are a very effective and efficient way to discuss things and to find out how we can help. The last thing we want to do is be a burden on the founders, and so we try to be very respectful of the their time (even if we're not as efficient as Oliver Samwer with his famous "supercalls" - 12 hours, 180 companies, or something like that).

Just like a regular Board Meeting, these monthly calls work best if the investors get an update before the call, so that the call can be spent discussing key challenges rather than spending too much time going through numbers and updates. And that brings me to the topic of this post: The One-Slide Update Deck.

Founders often ask me if I have a preferred format for updates and KPIs. And while I can point them to my SaaS metrics dashboard for KPIs, we've never had something like a template for other updates. So here's my attempt to create a super-simple deck which you can use to update your investors (or me!):

The idea is that in the beginning you create a rough roadmap for the next 12 months, broken down into key areas like Product & Tech, Sales & Marketing and Team/Hiring (see slide 1), plus a financial plan. Better yet, you already have a plan :-) and you discuss that with your investors to get everyone on the same page.

Then, every month you create one slide which shows progress and problems, as well as the original plan, in each of the three key areas, plus key metrics. I've borrowed the "Progress, plans, problems" technique from Seedcamp; the metrics are taken from my own SaaS dashboard template. So just one slide, once a month, with information you should already have anyway, and you should have a great basis for highly productive calls or meetings with your investors.

It obviously doesn't matter if you use Keynote, Google Docs or something else, and depending on the needs of your company you may want to emphasize different key areas or include other KPIs. So this isn't meant to be prescriptive but rather a suggestion or a starting point for founders who are thinking about reporting for the first time – if you are already providing more comprehensive monthly reports, don't change it!

If you want to take a closer look, here is a PDF and here is the original Keynote version.

Thanks to Nicolas, Rodrigo and Michael for providing valuable feedback on the draft of the slides!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A toast to all the great ones that we've missed

Picture taken by "nlmAdestiny"

One of the things that inevitably happens when you're in the angel or VC investing business for a couple of years is that besides a hopefully healthy portfolio, you're also building a growing anti-portfolio. As far as I know, the term "anti-portfolio" has been coined by Bessemer. Its meaning is described very well on Bessemer's website, and because it's so hilarious I want to quote it in its entirety:

"Bessemer Venture Partners is perhaps the nation's oldest venture capital firm, carrying on an unbroken practice of venture capital investing that stretches back to 1911. This long and storied history has afforded our firm an unparalleled number of opportunities to completely screw up.
Over the course of our history, we did invest in a wig company, a french-fry company, and the Lahaina, Ka'anapali & Pacific Railroad. However, we chose to decline these investments, each of which we had the opportunity to invest in, and each of which later blossomed into a tremendously successful company.
Our reasons for passing on these investments varied. In some cases, we were making a conscious act of generosity to another, younger venture firm, down on their luck, who we felt could really use a billion dollars in gains. In other cases, our partners had already run out of spaces on the year's Schedule D and feared that another entry would require them to attach a separate sheet.
Whatever the reason, we would like to honor these companies -- our "anti-portfolio" -- whose phenomenal success inspires us in our ongoing endeavors to build growing businesses. Or, to put it another way: if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working."

What follows is a list of spectacularly successful companies which Bessemer saw and passed on, including Apple, eBay, FedEx, Google, Intel and others. (No need to send CARE packages to the guys at Bessemer though, they have more than 100 (!) IPOs under their belts).

I'm a big fan of dealing with failures openly, and I applaud Bessemer for being so open about their anti-portfolio. In the next version of our (meanwhile pretty outdated) website we should add a section about Point Nine's biggest misses, but let me already give you a sneak preview into my personal anti-portfolio:

The two "passes" which I regret the most are SoundCloud and TransferWise. The reason why these two ones stand out is that I had the opportunity to invest in them (at an early stage and at reasonable terms), spent some time looking at them and decided to pass. Since then, both SoundCloud and TransferWise have become "unicorns" or are on their way getting there. Congrats to the founders and early investors of these fantastic companies – Alexander, Eric, Christophe and Jan (SoundCloud) and Taveet, SeedCamp and Index (TransferWise)!

Another unicorn that we rejected is FanDuel. Congrats team FanDuel, Fabrice, Andrin!

As far as I know, these three are the only $1B-valuation companies that we've missed so far, but there are several other companies that we passed on and which are doing great. Most of these are probably worth well over $100M by now and they include:

The reasons for passing an all of these great companies varied and included concerns about market size, competition, defensibility, valuation ... all bullshit with the benefit of hindsight. :-) While I am of course trying to learn from all of these mistakes, I also know that it's inevitable that my anti-portfolio will continue to grow over time. And although that can hurt, I know that that is okay – at least as long as we're happy with our non-anti-portfolio.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Reflections on the early days at Zendesk (part 2)

This is part two of my post about the early days at Zendesk. The first part is here.

Small, fragmented and no potential for differentiation

As mentioned in the first part of this post, the seed round was only $500,000 and it was clear that we’d need much more money soon. That’s why Mikkel and I started to work on a pitch deck and a financial plan almost immediately after the closing of the seed round and started to pitch to VCs shortly thereafter.
In my personal experience as a founder, raising money has never been easy, and so I didn’t expect that it would be easy. I was quite optimistic though, since I thought we had a pretty good pitch: a well-rounded team of three complementary and experienced founders, a beautiful product, a proven business model, paying customers and nice (yet early) traction.

So why did all European VCs pass? I’m getting asked this question a lot and I don’t have a perfect answer, but here are a few important factors:

  • There just weren’t (and still aren’t) that many VCs in Europe who can write a Series A check. If a couple of them pass for whatever reason, you’ve quickly exhausted your available options.
  • Our timing was horrible – it was almost at the height of the global financial crisis which had started in 2007. While we were trying to raise the Series A, Lehman Brothers imploded and a collapse of the entire global financial markets seemed possible.
  • We had failed to convince investors that we were going after a large market and that we could build a defensible position. One feedback that we got was that the market for help desk software is “small and fragmented” and that there are concerns about the “potential for differentiation” and several other VCs were concerned about the size of the opportunity and our ability to differentiate, too.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the “European VCs are risk-averse/dumb/whatever” theme to explain why we haven’t been able to raise money in Europe. While I do think that there are differences between how VCs work in Europe vs. the US, I think it wouldn’t be fair to blame European investors for missing Zendesk: With hindsight Zendesk looks like a clear winner, but back in 2008 it wasn’t that clear. It was still very early.

At a critical juncture

A few months later, after having talked to a number of US investors and and after an almost-deal with a West Coast VC which was pulled back at the last minute, we eventually got an offer from CRV in Boston. We were relieved, but the valuation was much lower than what we had hoped for.

Because of the dilution which the investment round would mean and because the whole fundraising process has been so hard, Morten and Alexander got more and more doubts if going the VC route was the right thing to do at all. They were wondering if we couldn’t go the 37signals way instead – stay a smaller team, grow organically and maybe raise money at a later point in time when we’d be in a stronger position and when the market conditions would be more favorable. That was definitely a viable alternative and worth considering, but Mikkel and I strongly believed that we had to raise money and that we shouldn’t wait. This led to a lot of long emails and Skype discussions between the four of us. It also led to some very heated discussions between Mikkel, Morten and Alexander, which is no surprise, given how much was at stake. We were at a critical juncture.

One relic from those days is this email snippet (Alex in red, me in green):

I still need to buy Alex a T-Shirt with “I’m not confident that Zendesk can grow into a $100 million company” on it.

In the end we decided to take the investment from CRV, but we took a smaller amount than what Devdutt had offered us to reduce the dilution. It was still a significant hit in terms of dilution, but given how many doors the CRV investment has opened for us and how much Devdutt has done for the company it proved to be the right decision.

The rest is history – get Mikkel’s book to read about it!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Reflections on the early days at Zendesk (part 1)

Yesterday I posted a brief review of Mikkel’s excellent book “Startupland”. For me, the book is also a good opportunity for some reflections and to share some thoughts in relation to Zendesk’s journey.

The first date

When I stumbled on Zendesk in 2008 I knew absolutely nothing about enterprise software, B2B or SaaS. I had always been a consumer Internet guy, having founded comparison shopping engine back in 1997 and personalized homepage Pageflakes in 2005. If Zendesk’s website hadn’t been so beautiful and if the product hadn’t been so easy to try and use, Zendesk would never have caught my attention (and I wouldn’t be writing this post now). The nice little buddha, the logo/brand and the tone of voice of the site also helped, massively.

Interestingly, if I had been an enterprise software investor, Zendesk probably wouldn’t have caught my attention either, since the website didn’t look like a typical enterprise software website at all. Today the “consumerization of the enterprise” has become mainstream, but in 2008 it wasn’t. Apparently you had to be a consumer Internet entrepreneur looking for the next big thing on the Web in order to stumble on and be attracted by Zendesk. This characteristic – not being a consumer Internet startup but not being a classical enterprise software company either – has probably contributed to our difficulty raising a Series A later on, but more on that later.

So when Mikkel and I met for the first time, I knew nothing about SaaS and probably asked a lot of dumb questions. At that I also knew nothing about inbound marketing and customer success – topics which are now near and dear to my heart for some years – and I was somewhat puzzled when Mikkel explained to me how they’ve been getting customers. I was worried that the inbound marketing plus customer success (at that time, called “customer advocacy”) approach wouldn’t scale and thought that they’d have to do outbound sales soon to keep growing. That turned out to be epically wrong: Zendesk grew to 10,000 paying customers before starting to build a real sales team, and up until this day, the vast majority of customers come from organic sources.

Having been an entrepreneur since the age of 17 I did know a few things about starting and building companies though, and since both and Pageflakes were VC-funded I also had some experience with venture capital. So Mikkel and I were very complementary, or, as Mikkel puts it in the book:
There was a good vibe between us, even though we were extremely different. […] Ultimately, I think we recognized that we were a good balance for one another.
I remember that a couple of years later, at the first PNC SaaS Founder Meetup in San Francisco in 2012, Mikkel ended his speech saying something along the lines of: “Kudos to Christoph for investing in us back in 2008 – I would never have invested in these three guys”, referring to his co-founders Morten, Alexander and himself. My response was: “Kudos to you for taking money from me – I never would have taken money from me”. I think there’s no better way to sum it up. :-)

After the financing is before the financing

Following our first meeting, we very quickly concluded that it would make sense to work together, agreed on the terms, and voilĂ , a six-figure dollar amount changed hands. I was excited, but it was also a little bit scary because it was my first angel investment (aside from a few small investments that I had made many years earlier). I didn’t have a diversified portfolio, and I didn’t know if I’d ever have one because I had no idea when I’d make my second investment. I didn’t have deal-flow, and I’m not even sure if I knew the term deal-flow.

I didn’t worry too much about it though, and the mood was good. Quoting Mikkel from the book:
We now had a new direction. The investment from this seed round inspired a new mindset and created a big change in pace. Christoph helped us with a business plan and helped us build out what would be the first attempt at describing the financial model of our business. [...] He helped us think about scale—and about the possibilities.
The seed round, including the friends & family investments and my own investment, was only $500,000 though. It was enough for the founders to take a modest paycheck and to hire a few people, but it was clear that we’d need a much larger round soon. That’s when things started to become worrisome for me, since it quickly became clear that raising a Series A round would be very difficult.

This was the first part. Part two coming soon.
[Update: Here is part two.]

Startupland – How three guys risked everything to turn an idea into a global business

As some of you may know, my friend Mikkel, founder and CEO of Zendesk, wrote a book. It’s called “Startupland: How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business” and you can learn more about it here. The hardcover version will be released in about two weeks, but the Kindle version just became available on Amazon and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a draft a few weeks ago.

The book is a well-written and very personal look back at Zendesk’s amazing success story, which began in a loft in Copenhagen and culminated in the company’s Wall Street IPO earlier this year. It’s both autobiography and “tips & tricks" guide: First and foremost it’s a suspenseful chronicle of the journey of Mikkel and his co-founders Alex and Morten that lets you witness some of the many ups and downs which startupland has in store for entrepreneurs, but it also contains a lot of actionable advice for other founders.

It’s an entertaining read, too, and as someone who was fortunate enough to have played a small role in Zendesk’s beginnings, reading about those early days put a smile on my face many times. In some cases, it also made me laugh out loud, e.g. when Mikkel writes about my conversation with Michael Arrington.

One of the reasons why "Startupland" is such a great read is that it’s honest and humble. When other authors write things like “I didn’t know anything about XYZ” it often feels like fishing for compliments. When Mikkel writes it, you know that he really means it that way.

I highly recommend the book to any startup founder, and in particular to all founders from Europe who consider making the move to the US.

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