The $100 million annual recurring revenue mark is a significant milestone for SaaS companies that signifies sustainable company growth. While every startup wants to hit this number as soon as possible, it’s a process that takes time. According to Kimchi Hill, on average it takes 4.5 years to hit the $10 million ARR mark and at least 50 percent of companies take between 5 and 10 years to finally hit $100 million ARR.
Successfully scaling your SaaS business takes time, dedication, and the right business strategy. Below are some tips you can use to scale your business and achieve startup growth.
Recognize when you’re ready to scale
The path to the first $1 million ARR is when most SaaS startups go through a strong learning phase. As you work toward $1 million ARR, you should be learning what works for your company and what doesn’t. For example, by the time you hit $1 million ARR, you should have determined the right product for your market, identified new customer leads, secured long-term business contracts, and have repeat customers, just to name a few. If you’ve seen consistent growth for a least two years in addition to ironing out your business strategy, you should be ready to scale your business.
Avoid common mistakes
Scaling a SaaS company takes skill and not all startups follow best practices. There are a number of common mistakes seen in the SaaS startup realm, but below are the top four you should avoid as you work to scale your business.
- Offering too many discounts
Startups are eager to attract customers, and a common strategy they’ll use to gain customers is discounts. People love discount deals, so it can be tempting to offer big discounts to bring more people to your service. The problem, however, is that SaaS companies start offering excessive discounts which can lead to attracting the wrong audience for the product and undervaluing the service. Instead of focusing on discounts, create a plan that includes customer incentives instead. This way customers are still encouraged to purchase the product, but you’re not giving away too much.
- Ignoring current customers
A common fallacy among startups is that new customers are more valuable than current customers. This is simply not true. Customer retention is a huge aspect of business success. Your current customers can bring you repeat business, and they’re also a valuable source of referral business. Too often startups become overly focused on acquiring new clients or leads and forget to give their current customers the best experience possible.
- Hiring the wrong people
Hiring decisions are always difficult, but startups seem to have an especially hard time finding the right people. The main problem is that startups tend to focus too much on technical skills and not enough on candidate qualities and culture fit. SaaS startups have unique cultures and expectations that employees need to understand and accept before being hired. If you’re adding new positions to your team, make sure you review candidate characteristics in addition to their overall experience and background.
- Avoid growth hacking
Growth hacking has become such a buzzword in the startup scene. Startup leaders are trying to figure out the fastest way to achieve rapid growth, but don’t be fooled by growth hacking strategies. There are several problems that startups run into when attempting to growth-hack their business. First, growth hacking often involves a number of shortcuts which leads to missed learning opportunities. Second, by scaling too rapidly, startups can’t keep up internally with growth and the management of the company falls apart. Finally, growth hacking often leaves customers feeling unheard and undervalued. All this to say, shortcuts will have a negative impact on your SaaS company long-term if you try to growth hack your startup.
Build your employee base
A major aspect of scaling is effectively growing various teams. In particular, the $10 million ARR mark is typically when startups begin to hire middle managers to oversee more of the business process and separate C-suite leaders from the general business process.
Adding another layer of sales management is also done at this time and can be especially difficult. Startup CEOs are accustomed to being involved in the sales process, but now the crucial role of managing sales falls on the VP of sales and department managers. The sales department needs particular attention as the startup scales and becomes larger, too. By the time you hit $10 million in ARR your company should have a dedicated sales team with a reliable sales pipeline in place for acquiring and driving business. As your startup grows, make sure you’re not neglecting this vital growth department.
Originally featured on Cowen Partners March 2021