How to Build and Market a SaaS Business | Duane Jackson AMA Recap

 “With SaaS you need to win the customer every month – you need to retain them”

Meet a man with a ‘colourful’ and ‘non-traditional’ past. Duane Jackson.

Duane’s story is well documented. You can hear the full story here. To sum it up in a sentence, Duane has bounced from children’s home… to prison… to accounting software.

But when we caught up with Duane for an AMA, the talk was far more practical than the inspirational message delivered at BoS Europe 2015. Duane built a successful accounting SaaS business incrementally over a number of years, before ‘upselling’ for an undisclosed sum reported to be in the region of £20 million. His marketing knowledge and natural business acumen are worthy of paying attention to – as are his words of advice.

Below is the hangout itself, but also some highlights from the AMA.

On Kashflow

  • In Duane’s opinion, Kashflow’s success was down to it solving a problem, Duane’s problem. He couldn’t find a decent accounting software anywhere. Duane described the software he developed as a ‘painkiller, not a vitamin’. By this, he means it solves a problem – working with and for the entrepreneur to make their life better and remove unnecessary pain.
  • He knew Kashflow was a good product from the start, but really, he only knew he had a good business when he sat down with his mentor and did a forecast after someone offered to buy the company.

On the Exit Process

  • On why did he sell, Duane was honest. Money was of a course a big reason. There were also other motivations however. The key to building Kashflow was cracking the accountant market – that wasn’t as fun before. It had started to get really competitive. Zero and sage are on the up, aspects Duane had no control over. When a buyer with the right fit came along, it made sense to sell up.
  • “Don’t put yourself on the yacht”. This was some of the advice Duane got from his mentor – Lord Young. He described the purchase process where often an offer will be received, despite those offering having every intention of reducing it once due diligence it held. The temptation would be to remove yourself from day to day business and start spending money in your head. By avoiding this, when a lower offer is received, then you do not feel you still need to sell. Did Duane manage it? Yes. His wife didn’t.

Duane’s Golden rules for building a SaaS business

  • 1. Look after the codebase – Kashflow codebase had been designed without proper structure which meant going back and making changes was difficult a few years on. In his defense, Duane says when Kashflow was written, best practices weren’t the same, but not they exits, it’s best to use them.
  • 2. Not building stuff we don’t need to. Duane and his team spent a long time coding a complete solution. What would have been easier (both in terms of time coding and maintainance) would have been to take advantage of other services that existed, vs. doing them in house.
  • 3. UI/UI: it’s important. Technical founders tend to believe the code make the difference, but really the html, css make a big difference.

3 lessons for marketing and PR – getting from zero to traction

  • PR – Do it yourself – Journalists want direct contact
  • Being available and being able to generate a sound bite – if you can help journalists – they’ll come to you for bigger things when the larger stories come and they need quotes.
  • Do stuff that other people are not doing. Put stuff in the post. Call people. Technical founders find it easier to code.

General Advice

  •  How do you split your time between coding and marketing? It’s not so much about how to split the time, it’s more about being disciplined with doing whatever you are supposed when you are doing it. Technical founders will so often revert back to the code base as the supposed answer to their problems.

Duane is now on a mission to prove his worth, living by the phrase ‘once you are lucky, twice you are good’. He has started a second SaaS company – Supdate.com. A reporting platform which makes it easy for founders and managers to deliver consistent but more importantly, easy to create, monthly reports to stakeholders. The platform is free and always will be. Duane is looking for feedback on the product, so head on over and try it for yourself before dropping him a message on his twitter.

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