SaaStr Podcast #398 with Salsify Co-Founder & CMO Rob Gonzalez

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Ep. 398: Rob Gonzalez is the Co-Founder & CMO @ Salsify, empowering brand manufacturers to deliver the product experiences consumers demand at every point in their buying journey. To date, Salsify has raised over $250M in funding from the likes of Venrock, Underscore, Warburg Pincus, Matrix Partners & Greenspring to name a few. As for Rob, before founding Salsify, he was the first-ever product manager at Cambridge Semantics and before that was a Senior Product Manager @ Endeca helping grow the company to it’s $Bn exit.

In Today’s Episode We Discuss:
  • How Rob made his way into the world of SaaS as a product manager and how that led to his founding Salsify over 8 years ago.
  • How does Rob think about the bundled vs unbundled thesis within SaaS? When is it right for SaaS companies to turn down potential customers? How can they do that the right ? What is the right way to think about customer segmentation? How should startups decide which customer segment to focus on?
  • How should startups think about implementing partnerships? When is the right time? What is the right way to onboard them? How can they be trained in implementation efficiently? What does great change management look like to Rob? What does Rob believe are the biggest misconceptions around change management?
  • How does Rob think through pricing today in a way that encourages land and expand? What can you do to make the land as frictionless as possible? What does it take to expand effectively? How does Rob think about usage vs seat-based pricing in SaaS? How should sales and marketing work together on pricing?  
If you would like to find out more about the show and the guests presented, you can follow us on Twitter here: Jason Lemkin
Harry Stebbings
Rob Gonzalez Below, we’ve shared the transcript of Harry’s interview with Rob. Harry Stebbings: We are back. This is the official SaaStr podcast with me, Harry Stebbings. And joining me in the hot seat today, we have Rob Gonzalez, co-founder and CMO at Salsify, empowering brand manufacturers to deliver the product experiences consumers demand at every point in their buying journey. To date, Salsify has raised over $250 million in funding from the likes of Venrock, Underscore, Warburg Pincus, Matrix Partners, and Greenspring, to name a few. Harry Stebbings: As for Rob, prior to founding Salsify, he was the first-ever product manager at Cambridge Semantics, and before that was a senior product manager at Endeca, helping grow the company to its billion-dollar exit. I do also want to say, huge thank you, though, to Michael Skok at Underscore. Some amazing background and question suggestions for Rob today. Michael, I really did so appreciate that. But that’s enough from me. So now it’s time to dive into the show, and I’m thrilled to welcome Rob Gonzalez, co-founder, and CMO at Salsify. Harry Stebbings: Rob, it is so great to have you on the show today. I’ve heard so many good things and many stories from Michael Skok. So thank you so much for joining me today, Rob. Rob Gonzalez: Thanks so much for having me. Harry Stebbings: Not at all. I do want to start it a little bit on you. So tell me, it’s a wonderful world, SaaS, but it’s also an interesting one to get into. So how did you make your way into the world of SaaS, and how did you come to found Salsify? I say most recently, but quite a few years ago, now. Rob Gonzalez: Yeah. Eight years ago, we founded the company, September 2012. But I had wanted to start a company for a long time before that. In 1999, I was at Williams College with my co-founder Jeremy Redburn. Williamstown at that time was sort of self-titled Silicon Village. There was a small startup scene. Tripod was a search engine there, which exited to AltaVista. Rob Gonzalez: And so, a lot of people that were doing computer science in Williamstown were thinking about startups back even in the late nineties. I was working on a startup that was an early mobile payment platform. It was basically using Bluetooth and an app on PalmPilots to do wireless payments in restaurants. And actually, one of the restaurants burned down and took our whole prototype with us, and that was pretty much the end of that company. Rob Gonzalez: So back then, we were already talking about it and it just took me and Jeremy another 14 years, almost, to get to a point where we really wanted to do a company. We felt ready from an experience perspective, we had an idea of what we wanted to do. Both of us and our third co-founder, Jason Purcell, were at a company called Endeca, which was a search engine for e-commerce, exited to Oracle for over a billion dollars in 2011. So we had a deep experience in the e-commerce space and it just, in 2012, it felt right. We had a great idea, we had a lot of experience, and we were ready to do it. But it took a lot of thinking up until that point before we ended up pulling the trigger. Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, you said it felt right. Do you think one’s ever ready to found a company? Do you know what I mean? I have a lot of graduates who always ask me, “Hey, should I join a startup? Should I join an incumbent? Or should I start my own company?” Do you think you’re ever ready, really, to start your own company? And actually, the only way you learn is by doing. How do you feel about that? Rob Gonzalez: I don’t necessarily agree that you’re never ready and all forms of never being ready are equivalent. So the statistics say that the older you are, the more likely you are for your company to succeed. All things being equal, a 20 year old versus a 30-year-old versus a 40-year-old starting a company, the 40-year-old is going to have a higher likelihood of success. So from that perspective, I think there is a lot to be said from gaining experience. Rob Gonzalez: Operationally, I look at, in particular, my experience at Endeca, but also another startup that sold to pharmaceutical companies and other life sciences businesses and financial services companies called Cambridge Semantics. I look at my experience through those companies, and I learned a lot about enterprise software sales, about buying patterns, about functions like product management and product marketing, and how they fit into a well functioning and operating company. It just made it a lot easier for us to scale up Salsify as we found success. Rob Gonzalez: I think if I had tried to do this when I was 22, I don’t know that I would have been able to do it. And not only that, I mean, I was in my early thirties when we founded Salsify. Jason’s a few years older than us and he was the GM of Endeca’s entire e-commerce business, and so had serious senior management experience. And that’s meant that, as we’ve scaled, it’s made it a lot easier to bring on seasoned executives that fit right into what we’re trying to do. So from my perspective, I think sometimes waiting can be helpful. The experience can matter. Harry Stebbings: I do want to ask, though, we spoke about eight years ago, founding Salsify. The SaaS industry, I mean, it’s completely changed on its head. I mean, eight years ago, a billion-dollar SaaS company was very, very rare. Now we have decacorn SaaS companies. How do you think about the most pronounced changes in SaaS over the last eight years for you? Rob Gonzalez: Yeah, I think there’s two. First, you hit the nail right on the head. In 2012, Wall Street didn’t really know how to value SaaS companies. You look at the forward-looking ARR multiples on the stock price, and they were a lot lower back then. They’ve been raising pretty much the entire decade. So whilst we didn’t know how to value them… Rob Gonzalez: And I think nobody really understood how many really big SaaS companies there could be. I mean, there was Salesforce, of course, but then you’ve got ServiceNow, you’ve got Veeva, you’ve got Workday. NetSuite exited close to a decacorn. It was just so many really great companies and so many more that are being built. And I think very few people understood that you could have really the possibility of dozens of decacorn companies existing on this model. And so that understanding has evolved a lot. Rob Gonzalez: The second major thing, I think, is that back in 2012, we were in what I think of as X in the cloud, as the moment of SaaS where you just take an existing software category and you put it in the cloud. So if you’re ERP, boom, Workday. If you’re CRM, boom, Salesforce. If you’re e-commerce, boom, Demandware. And there’s a lot of benefit to running a software as a service, in general. But I think that that generation of technology as being the first generation of cloud technology really misses out on benefits that you can accrue to being truly multitenant. Rob Gonzalez: So if you were building a commerce platform today, for example, you wouldn’t do it as single tenant, effectively, deployments. My account runs my website. You would probably do it as a way to connect data and analytics and behaviors and workflows across different companies and across different websites to make them all more effective. So I think we’re in a generation now, which is more, what is only uniquely possible in the cloud. And that’s distinct from the X in the cloud pattern that was the first generation. Harry Stebbings: Sorry, this is so unfair of me to go off schedule like this, but when you think back on only possible in the cloud, I think through every investment of mine is unbundling or bundling and try and very carefully be aware of which camp we’re in and why. Do you think that’s actually completely external to unbundling versus bundling? Or do you think it’s actually related? And if so, which one? Rob Gonzalez: Oh yeah. The old Jim Barksdale framing. Harry Stebbings: We’re both fans, clearly. Rob Gonzalez: Huge fan. Yeah. I think it’s orthogonal most of the time. Let me just give you an example. There were chat protocols that were around for a long time and there were even intercompany enterprise chat like Yammer and HipChat that existed. And Slack came out, and Slack enabled you to connect across companies. And they really built a network model on top of the chat, so instead of operating within a company, they started operating across companies. Rob Gonzalez: And that’s an example where it’s not really bundling or unbundling anything. It’s taking advantage of the fact that you’re a multi-tenant cloud architecture, and connecting people within one company is no different than connecting people across companies. So that type of mindset, I think, is the difference, not so much a bundle or unbundle. Rob Gonzalez: In Salsify’s space, in particular, we work with brand manufacturers, so customers, think Bosch, Coca-Cola, Levis, Lego, companies like that, and we help them win online. And a big part of those companies executing online is communicating their product data, their brand experiences, inventory data, things like that, to Amazon, to Walmart, to Granger, to Home Depot, to wherever their products happen to be sold. Rob Gonzalez: And there’s a connection across the supply chain of the brand and the retailer that didn’t really quite exist before from an experience management perspective, but is enabled by a SaaS company in a way that just wouldn’t have been possible in a non-SaaS world. And that’s another example of something where it’s not exactly a bundle or unbundle, it’s more unlocking a new type of capability that is uniquely enabled by the model. Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, you mentioned some of your incredible clients there. I spoke to Michael Skok, one of your investors, before the show, and he mentioned there was a time when, bluntly, there was a case where you were turning down customers. Now, talk to me about this. Why would one turn down customers? What was the reasoning, from your perspective? Rob Gonzalez: I mean, focus is the really short answer there. Ultimately, what we’re building is a multi-channel commerce platform. So if you are in the modern world, 2021, you are going to market, as a brand manufacturer, as a retailer, as a distributor, any of these models, in a hundred different ways. So if you think about just a manufacturer and you’re making a toy, you might sell it direct to consumer on your own website. You might sell it on Instagram, so Facebook has buy buttons on Instagram now. You might sell it through Facebook marketplace. You might sell it on Amazon as a first party seller. You might also sell it on Amazon as a third party seller, and so on and so forth. Rob Gonzalez: So your routes to market are extremely varied and also changing all the time. goPuff, for example, is a relatively new route to market competing with convenience, just raised a massive round at a close to $4 billion valuation. Now, they didn’t exist 10 years ago, and now it’s an important route to market for convenience products. So you’ve got this incredibly wide range of routes to market, and the challenge of a modern commerce platform is how do you actually coordinate selling motions and marketing motions through all of them centrally? That’s the problem that we’re looking to solve. Rob Gonzalez: Now, in terms of things going pear shaped, early on, we would sell to retailers, and we would sell to distributors, and we would sell to manufacturers. And what we found over time is that the needs of those three different business models in the market were really quite divergent. And it became pretty difficult for us from a product management and product strategy perspective to create a product that knocked it out of the park for retailers at the same time that we were creating a product that knocked it out of the park for brand manufacturers, and ultimately, had to make a choice that, for us, focusing on brand manufacturers really was going to be better off for our customers and easier for us to manage, given limited resources. Rob Gonzalez: So that’s what we ended up doing. And it’s meant that we’ve had to sunset some customers that were reasonably happy customers and it’s meant that when folks come into us from those business models and they want to work with us, we have to say no. But in saying no, it gives us the ability to create a truly best in class product on a lot of different axes for the core market that we serve. Harry Stebbings: So many different things from that there for me. Sorry for this, but you said about the multitude of the routes to market. I’m really interested. When you think about partnerships, something that’s been a core part of a lot of SaaS providers in the early days in scaling GTMs efficiently, how do you think the partnership model will play out over the next three to five years, I guess? And how did you think about it? Rob Gonzalez: Let me start with my philosophy here, which is that some companies, and certainly a start-up that I was working with before this, have fallen into the trap where you think that the partners are going to solve the go-to-market problem for you. They’ve got reach, they’ve got experience selling solutions that are similar to your solution, and so on and so forth. Rob Gonzalez: I think that’s wrong. Ultimately, partners can only sell something that you yourself have figured out how to sell and scale. So first and foremost, you want to have control of your go-to-market, and you’ve got to have the ability to sell to your customer yourself. And in gaining that ability, you will be able to bring on partners who can then accelerate your go-to-market and become part of your lead generation mix. Rob Gonzalez: In our case, we didn’t really spin up partners until early 2019, late 2018, early 2019 as a function, and only really a few weeks ago did we get a functional executive, a guy named Dan Herman, over the group to run it and start scaling it. So for us, it was relatively late in the game. I mean, we’re a series D company right now. We’ve been around for eight years and we only now have a partner organization that supports partners going to market. Rob Gonzalez: Now, because we’ve already reached scale within some of our accounts, our largest customers are multi-million ACV accounts, we can go to an Accenture, we can go to a WPP, we can go to others that are in the space that are expecting large deals with commensurately large services attached to them, and we can get their interest. Accenture literally has hundreds of people all over the world system at any given moment, and they can be good partners for us in that way. Four years ago, five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case. Rob Gonzalez: So the answer will vary based on company’s maturity level, and the type of product they sell, and how complicated it is, and the size of contract, and all that type of stuff. But broadly speaking, I think you’ve got to have a pretty decent scale on your own go-to-market efforts before it’s worth bringing partners in as part of the mix. Harry Stebbings: I love the way we’re just completely ignoring the schedule here, but I’m far too enjoying this. So you mentioned some of the incredible customers that you have around the world, and then also Accenture and the many other people engaging with it on a daily basis. My question to you is, change management is always so tough when working with some of these huge brands. What’s been your biggest lessons in what it takes to make change management efficient, effective, and streamlined? Rob Gonzalez: Yeah. Let me start with a mistake that we made early on. In 2012, no one took Amazon seriously, really. I mean, if you were a Johnson & Johnson, or you were any of these large manufacturers, you had one person or a tiny little team on Amazon, and that was it. They were just an additional sales channel. The gross was relatively low, even if the growth rate was relatively large. Other retailers weren’t, at that time, looking at Amazon as an existential threat, so the world of e-commerce was really quite different in 2012 compared to where it is today. Rob Gonzalez: And we were building a solution that enabled brands to win online, effectively. Control their brand presence, their product experience on Amazon, Walmart, Target, other places like that. And we thought that it was an enterprise problem. We thought that it would be analogous to really controlling your experience on Google. So if you’re managing a web property, you take Google SEO and SEM very seriously. There’s what, an $80-90 billion industry that focuses on just that? Rob Gonzalez: We felt that there would be the same type of thing for retail search. If you’re a brand manufacturer winning search on Amazon, winning search on Walmart, winning search on Home Depot should be even more valuable to you than winning search on Google. It’s closer to the purchase. And so, our view is we come to market with a solution that solves a big part of this problem, and people would be willing to pay a lot of money for it pretty quickly. Rob Gonzalez: And in 2012 and 2013, the early versions of the product, and frankly, even through halfway in 2014, they were hard to sell for exactly the reason that you’re talking about. It’s the change management aspect of it. These companies, even the ones that look forward in the future and say, “E-commerce is going to be a huge thing. Amazon is going to be absolutely dominant,” and so on and so forth, and there weren’t many of those people, but even those people, internally in their organizations, couldn’t get the tens of thousands of dollars to invest in robust enterprise solution for the problem. Rob Gonzalez: And so for us, getting in these companies, doing the education, finding the champions, and finding people that really believed in the vision was insufficient to closing out a lot of deals. And really, what helped us out along the way was in the back half of 2014, Macy’s, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, all within six to nine months of each other, started releasing content quality guidelines for their suppliers that included penalties for suppliers didn’t provide enough content that was deeper and compliant with their individual site search strategies and had images that were compliant with their site style guides and all this sort of stuff. Rob Gonzalez: And it really wasn’t until that time that the retailers started putting a thumb on the scale and putting pressure on the brands to become more digitally literate that we had the external compelling event needed to start pushing on the change management within these companies. So for us, having a strong vision of the future and understanding what changes the brands would have to go through over a long period of time to succeed, it wasn’t sufficient. The industry itself had to move in our direction in order to really give us the clout to push on it. Nowadays, of course, it’s a totally different situation. With COVID, in particular, everybody knows digital is everything, and it’s a much easier conversation to have. Harry Stebbings: Totally is. And yeah, I completely agree in terms of the shifted times. The other element that you said was about the services element. You mentioned Accenture, and services is a segment that’s bluntly shit on by VCs. Services revenue is thought of as low grade revenue. Ugh, services revenue. I’m actually a big believer in it, to an extent, if it’s a healthy ratio, given its ability for customer success and retention. How do you think about services revenue, and your willingness to have it as part of your business today, really? Rob Gonzalez: Yeah. We have a services arm. We want to run it about slightly gross margin positive on the business, so just, essentially, so it pays for itself. I think that services in the early days of, especially, an enterprise software company like Salsify, are extremely important. Because if you’re providing an enterprise solution and you’ve only been working on it for three, four years, it’s going to have gaps. Rob Gonzalez: There’s no way you can build a truly robust enterprise grade piece of software in three, four years that solve hard problems and have it be complete. Really robust services can paper over a lot of the product shortcomings and enable your customers to see success. So I think it’s an absolutely essential piece of companies getting off the ground. Rob Gonzalez: As you scale, we’ve made a decision at Salsify that we don’t want our services arm to be a large profitable business. I think in our space, you could certainly build a large profitable services business. There’s plenty of add-ons on top of our software, such as content creation, optimization, content optimization for things like SEO, image design, the list goes on and on, but then also the classic enterprise services work like workflow modeling, measurements and analytics on performance, and so on and so forth. Rob Gonzalez: So you can do tons of services on top of the solution that we offer. We’ve made the decision that most of that should go to the ecosystem. So we have just enough services, is the way that I would think about it. And for very large global deployments, the multi-million dollar SOWs, that sometimes a company, a large Salsify deployment, we want that to be done by somebody like an Accenture, somebody like a Wunderman Thompson, that has the in-house capability and experience doing it. And I think that’s best for all parties. Rob Gonzalez: So I think it’s a really important part of the mix. I don’t poo-poo it at all. I think it’s an essential part of the mix, and whether or not you decide to make it a big part of your revenue stream, I think just depends on, for your particular ecosystem, how important and embedded are existing services companies, and can you take advantage of that? I mean, if the answer is yes, then it enables you to be more of a software company. And if the answer is no, there’s no reason not to do the services yourself. Harry Stebbings: Can I ask, when you look at the services required to scale to the multi-millions of pounds of contract value that you have and other enterprise software companies have, the question that I have is, you can’t start at the multi-million pound level on a contract size basis. What have been some lessons for you in terms of entry point and how to successfully expand in as compressed a timeframe as possible, really, in terms of upsell? Rob Gonzalez: One of the great enduring benefits of the SaaS model is it’s just so suited to land, expand. It’s perfect for land, expand. And we’ve really followed that strategy from the beginning even to now. So, the way that we set our pricing and packaging is very intentionally to make the initial sale of Salsify for a new logo as frictionless as possible. Rob Gonzalez: And for us, we sell to manufacturers that are as small as 10 million a year in revenue, and then we sell to the very biggest in the world. And our contracts can go in the 10,000 a year range at the very lowest end to multi-million a year, depending on the functionality, and the geographies it’s being used, and some features, and so on. So those initial lands, our entry points that we create, are structured based on the market segment so that we can keep the average sales cycle time to about 90 days. So from that first buyer meeting until deal closed, around 90 days. Rob Gonzalez: So our largest customers that are in the multimillion dollar ACV range all started at about $65-70,000 initial contracts a few years ago and have just been adding to it over time. So from my perspective, SaaS enables land, expand way better than any other model that I know of. And if you focus on those initial lands as a frictionless deal that you can get wins on the board, the sky’s the limit in terms of how far you can grow with your customers together. So, that’s how we thought about it. Harry Stebbings: Listen, I totally agree in terms of it being the perfect model and suited. And fascinating to hear about that conversion cycle. In terms of the sales reps doing it, payback is one of my biggest passions, which is probably a sign that I need to get out more. How do you, especially as a CMO with the marketing hat on, how do you think about sales and marketing’s relationship, and what you, as the CMO, most like to engage with from the sales perspective side? Rob Gonzalez: Yeah. I mean, this is an evolving game for sure. I subscribe to what David Kellogg said, which is that marketing exists to make sales faster. And I think that depends on, first and foremost, that you’ve got a healthy sales team, with healthy sales leadership, and a healthy sales process. If you have that in place, there’s lots of different ways that marketing can be a great partner to sales in driving pipeline generation and helping them really hit and beat their numbers on a reliable basis. Rob Gonzalez: From our perspective, we’ve gone through several different, I think of as, generations of sales and marketing at Salsify. In the early days, we were selling much smaller contracts. The solution was a lot simpler than it is today and the whole selling motion was relatively transactional. So we had a more inbound-heavy marketing mix, and we had a certain type of rep that was more oriented at just banging out transactional deals. Over the years, while we still have some of our business looks like that, more and more of the business is bigger enterprise sales. Rob Gonzalez: The first thing that we did was we had to upgrade sales management, we had to upgrade sales reps, the folks that are really true enterprise grade experienced sellers, we brought into the company. That was a big cultural and process shift for us. I mean, talk about change management, that was a lot of work and we didn’t get it all right. It took a while to really settle into that new motion. Rob Gonzalez: And then after we had the sales reps, we had to do the same thing with marketing. So I brought on a new VP of revenue marketing in September of 2019, and she’s really done a tremendous amount to rebuild the entire growth engine to be much more enterprise focused from the beginning. So to get back to the original point, marketing makes effective sales more effective. In our experience, there’s been a sales change, then bleeds back through market. Sales change bleeds back through marketing. And that’s happened in several cycles so far over the course of the company. Harry Stebbings: Can I interrupt you? You said about a revenue marketing officer. I had Ryan Bonnici, he’s a friend, on the show recently and he said that marketing has to be tied to a number directly related to revenue. Marketing attribution is the biggest challenge for me in my flaws. How do you think about the revenue marketing role and how you think about successful marketing attribution? Rob Gonzalez: Yeah, I mean, it’s not a problem. That’s an easy one to solve for us. Because we’re an enterprise sale, a lot of the sales cycles are team oriented sales cycles. They take long periods of time. I mean, I say we try to keep up the average to 90 days, but there’s a long tail to that. So we often have larger sales cycles that might take nine months or 10 months and involve dozens of people on the buying side and maybe a dozen people at Salsify working on the deal. Rob Gonzalez: In those types of situations, there’s not a single lead source and there’s not a single marketing contribution. So you might have 15-20 touches with the company in the two months before the initial buying meeting. A couple of them are webinars, a couple of them are cold calls, a couple of them are referrals from a customer, and so on and so forth. And which of those do you give credit to for the lead? Which one of them do you give credit to for the deal? Rob Gonzalez: So from our perspective, what we’ve done to help simplify this is the cold calling team, the telemarketing team, the PDR team, we brought in as part of the revenue marketing function. And ultimately, that team is responsible for both handling the inbounds that come in and converting them to first buyer meetings, and then also cold calling and just doing the classic tele-prospecting to create new buyer meetings as well. We look at where the sources of all the meetings are initially, and then we look at the mix of touches that go into supporting the cycle all the way through close, including webinars that we use for the middle of the sales cycle to help educate buyers that are trying to learn more about the space. Rob Gonzalez: So I think there’s no silver bullet there. One of the things that we’ve done in the last couple of years is we took Jeremy Redburn, who’s one of the three co-founders, and we put him in charge of data at the company, in part to start building out more intelligence around attribution, because it’s been getting more complicated the bigger that we’ve getting. So yeah, I don’t have a hard answer to you other than it’s hard. We do the best that we can. I feel for everyone that’s trying to figure out exactly how to do this. Harry Stebbings: I think it’s pretty impossible. I do have to say that I do want to move into my favorite of any show, though, Rob, which is a quick fire round. This has been so much fun. I love just the natural conversation. So thank you for rolling with the punches, so to speak. But I say a short statement, and then you hit me with your immediate thoughts. Are you ready to roll? Rob Gonzalez: I’m ready to roll. Harry Stebbings: Okay. So tell me, start up life is fraught with challenges. What’s your biggest challenge with your role with Salsify today? Rob Gonzalez: I would say for a long time, it was all the HR related things. I mean, you get hundreds and hundreds of people in the company and there’s personnel stuff that pops up. And that’s, for me, personally, just based on my personality makeup, the most stressful part of the job. Harry Stebbings: What does the word company culture mean to you? It’s bandied around like nothing today. What does it mean to you? Rob Gonzalez: It’s the set of decisions and behaviors that happen when nobody’s looking. It’s like, what’s the default thing that you do? What’s expected of you? And what do you know that your peers are going to judge you on? That’s ultimately the heart of it. Harry Stebbings: Can I ask a tough one? What have you done deliberately to set the company culture with Salsify? Rob Gonzalez: I think one of the things that we did well is we sat down with Michael Skok in the early days and had a discussion about this. The thing that came out from that meeting was that I think most of a company’s culture is organic, is driven by especially leaders that you hire early on that shape the teams and shape the organizations of the company. And a lot of that is like, you can have control of the leader, but not exactly how the culture develops. Rob Gonzalez: The thing that we did well, and really, thanks to Michael for putting us in this direction, is we picked a couple of just core values that we hold ourselves accountable to. We survey our employees and just see if there’s any gaps in how we’re behaving towards those core values and we put particular effort to making sure that they’re true across the company. So while most of it can organically develop, a couple of key characteristics, we try to be very intentional about that. The most important to me being empowerment, the fact that individuals can operate as autonomously as possible, and that decision-making capability is pushed as far outward in the organization as we can make happen. Harry Stebbings: Tell me, what’s the hardest role to hire for today and why? Rob Gonzalez: Right now, I’m looking for a head of product marketing, so if you know anyone, let me know. And I think that’s a particularly hard role in a modern SaaS company because it’s not a bad version of product marketing of old. We’re creating sales decks and things like that. A modern head of product marketing is like a GM without the P and L almost, and they’ve got to be tremendously good at a huge variety of things. And in a product oriented company like Salsify, they’ve got to be technical. And so, I think that’s a little bit of a unicorn role and I really could use somebody there. Harry Stebbings: No, listen, I totally agree. And product marketing is every single person who I’ve ever asked hardest role to hire for. I think at least you are not alone. Tell me, which external SaaS leader do you most respect and admire today, and why? Rob Gonzalez: Benioff. I think Salesforce is just this operationally excellent machine. We just hired Mike Milburn, who was Salesforce’s Chief Customer Officer, and before that, he was the GM of Service Cloud, which is a multi-billion dollar ARR division of Salesforce. And especially what I’ve been learning from Mike and what I had known from people that worked at Salesforce before is that place is just a machine. And it’s hard to build something like that. And then I’ll give you a second answer. I really admire Reid Hoffman. He has said very publicly that he’s run multi-thousand person companies and teams and he just doesn’t like being in charge of teams. And he’s super self-aware of that. And I admire that. So the two of those guys really come out for me. Harry Stebbings: What would you most like to change about the world of SaaS? As we said, Salsify, eight year old company. What would you most like to change about the world of SaaS? Rob Gonzalez: Man, I would like there to be a lot more rigor around SaaS metrics so that we can more easily benchmark against other companies. Just for example, everyone calculates churn a little bit differently. David Kellogg has an outstanding series of blog posts about all the different ways that people talk about churn. David Skok, also on our board, who’s written just a really outstanding 30 page ebook on how to calculate churn effectively and LTV and CAC. And it’s just, people are pretty inconsistent about this. So when people are reporting these numbers that are non-GAAP SaaS numbers, it’s really hard to know how you would compare with those. So for me, I would just like more rigor around that so that we can more easily benchmark and talk to peers about it. Harry Stebbings: I totally agree. I’d also love it if we had some open source platform where we can do anonymized dataset benchmarking. That would be even better. I do want to move into my favorite, which is next five years for you and for Salsify. Paint that picture for me, Rob. Rob Gonzalez: Yeah. So we intend to IPO, I mean, certainly within that five years, unless we’re doing something wrong. We’ve also started creating a category called commerce experience management. And what I’d really like to see is for that category to take shape and for others to see the future that we see, in terms of how a brand executes and goes to market in this new multi-channel world of the digital shelf that we’re in now. So for us, that’s really it. Just keep the operational growth going, hit an IPO with our feet on the ground, running hard, continuing to accelerate, and make the category that we’re building a real thing that everybody’s talking about. Harry Stebbings: Rob, as I’ve said, I’ve heard so many great things from Michael before this episode. I’m so pleased that we got to do it, and I so appreciate your patience and really letting me go off schedule quite so much. Rob Gonzalez: No, absolutely. It’s been a fun conversation. Hopefully it’s valuable to the audience and thanks so much for having me on board. Harry Stebbings: Absolutely love that. And such exciting times ahead for Rob and Salsify. If you’d like to see more from us behind the scenes, you can on Instagram at HStebbings1996 with two Bs. I always love to see that. We have a very special show for you in the coming weeks. We have Tamar, Head of Product at Slack, and then we also have Felix, founder and CEO at Collibra on the show. Stay tuned, some very special ones to come.   The post SaaStr Podcast #398 with Salsify Co-Founder & CMO Rob Gonzalez appeared first on SaaStr.

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