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Learning from the best – 3 SaaS talks you should listen to

Home » Blog » Learning from the best – 3 SaaS talks you should listen to

Building a startup often means that you need to accept that you are clueless. There are the things that you kind of know but aren't really good at. There are the things you know of but have no idea how to make happen. And there are things that you just don’t know anything about.

This happens a lot for us here at Front. The good news is though, you can learn these things from smart, experienced people who are eager to share. And this is what we have been doing.

Here are the three SaaS talks that have had the most impact on us and that completely changed the way we work on our product, on our growth and with our customers.

Des Traynor Product Strategy Is About Saying No

This is a fabulous talk by Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, on the core principles of product strategy. It’s only 7.5 minutes long but it will push you to ask yourselves the right questions about your product and where you are taking it.

3 things you’ll learn from his talk

1. Learn to say no to everyone.

When you’re building a product, the number of people involved in making decisions will grow more quickly that you think. You’ll have your team first of course, but then your customers, your investors, your competitors… And even if they might have great ideas, you’ll need to stay focused and learn to say no to all of them when necessary.

Say no when your developer tells you he wants to build a feature because it’s quick and cheap to do. Say no to your customers when they threaten to leave if you don’t make a specific feature. And say no to people pressuring you into doing what your competitors are doing.

Des quotes the now famous Apple ad:

“There are a thousand no’s for every yes”. So start counting! :)

2. Start simple and grow complex.

“You can’t design complexity. Everyone starts beautiful and simple and then evolves to complexity.” - Des Traynor

You don’t want to be a Swiss Army knife. That means that it’s not about doing a lot of things in an ok manner, it’s about doing one thing really well. So start simple and grow slowly towards a more complex product, adding as you go the features that you think really matter.

3. Get the right kind of engagement

“When you roll up new features, people just stop doing something else. You’re not increasing engagement, you’re just splitting it.” - Des Traynor

You want your customers to engage with your product or your service. But you need to be careful with the kind of engagement you’re getting. A new feature might be increasing engagement but it’s probably actually just shifting it from another feature. So it’s important to choose wisely when picking new add-ons to your product.

That being said, you also need to be able to get rid of features that are just not working. Unless you figure out a new way to make your customers use them.

What it changed in our day-to-day work

We ask ourselves the right questions each time we have a new feature request or when we are looking to prioritise the features on our roadmap.
Does it fit our vision? Is it a forward step along the way? Will it matter in 5 years? Will it generate new engagement? Can we grow our business because of it? Does it benefit all of our customers?

Brian Balfour - The Scientific Method: How to Design & Track Viral Growth Experiments

Brian Balfour is probably as big of an expert as you can get on growth and customer acquisition channels, and is now VP of Growth at Hubspot. What I love about this video (published very recently!) is that he gives you very practical tips that you’re able to implement straight away.

3 things you’ll learn from his talk

1. There are no silver bullets.

That’s really no surprise for everyone (at least I hope so). But Brian makes the point that a lot of entrepreneurs still ask him about what he does instead of how he does it when they ask for his advice. The secret he shares is that in the end, growth is just the sum of a lot of small parts.

It’s all about little things that add up and that’s why you should never stop trying new things.

2. It’s not about tactics, it’s about processes

“You want to build a machine.” - Brian Balfour

Since there are no silver bullet, you can’t copy other people tactics or methods. But instead, you can build the machine that will allow you to find the right combination of things that work for you and get those done.

Three things you need to know about your process machine is it needs to be :

  1. scalable
  2. predictable
  3. repeatable

3. Look at reality straight in the face

“Be brutally honest with yourself.” - Brian Balfour

It’s really easy to do things and say they are working without tracking them. But this will not allow you to scale what you’re doing. Brian gives the key to setting objective results and quantitative measurements to make sure you’re getting everything as it really is.
And since we’re also always overestimating success or underestimating resources, it’s good to have it all written down somewhere so we can get better at evaluating things.

What it changed in our day-to-day work

We used to have the idea that we should learn tactics, then build a strategy behind these tactics and then process the whole thing. Brian’s talk actually made us realize that we were doing it backwards.

It’s easier to build the processes and systems which lead to new ideas and strategies and finally to tactics and execution.

Kathy Sierra - The Minimum Badass User, A MasterClass in Thinking about Software Product Development

Kathy Sierra: Building the minimum Badass User, Business of Software 2012 from The BLN & Business of Software on Vimeo.

This talk is definitely a must-see if you are involved in making software. It’s the longest of the three talks I’ll share with you today but it’s definitely worth your time.
Kathy Sierra was one of the first to take a radically new approach to teaching programming. But she also knows a lot about making software, and she shows it well in this brilliant talk.

3 things you’ll learn from her talk

1. It’s not about your product (part 1)

"The secret to building great products is not creating awesome features, it's to make your users awesome." - Kathy Sierra

There is one thing you need to keep in mind when you’re building your product or service, it’s not just about you. Of course you want to build an awesome product and you want people to consider you as awesome. But as Kathy Sierra tells it, people will think you’re awesome only if you make them feel awesome in the first place.

And how do you do that? By enabling your customers to become “badasses” thanks to your product, or in other words, by enabling them to become experts at whatever your product is supposed to do.

2. It’s still not about your product (part 2)

"You can still suck on some things and actually have a really successful product if you are focusing completely on the user." - Kathy Sierra

In the end, your product doesn’t matter that much, it’s the experience people have with it that counts. That’s why your design is important, that’s why customer service is important, that’s why all interactions between you and your customers need to be spot on.

In the end, a couple of bugs won’t kill your product. Not focusing on your customers will.

3. We need to rethink loyalty

You can never expect your customers to be fully loyal to you. They might like you, they might even love you, but you’re just a brand and they’ll always be able to go somewhere else if you disappoint them. Your relationship with them is ongoing and it’s your day-to-day job to make it as awesome as you can.

What it changed in our day-to-day work

This talk made all of us really take into the account the importance of our customers and how crucial it is to make them feel awesome. In the end, there is one thing that we need to keep in mind at all time. We’re not building our product for us. We’re building it for them.

Alice is the head of Marketing and Growth at Front - a shared inbox for companies and teams. You can connect with her through email at alice at or on twitter @alice_default.