12 Enterprise SaaS Startup Lessons Learned in 120 Days at Percolate

Four months ago, I joined the marketing team at Percolate, a marketing technology platform. We work with brands like GE, Mastercard, Unilever to help them plan, create, publish, and analyze their marketing content — with a big vision to transform marketing through technology.

It’s been a blast. I’m responsible for the company blog and lead many of our content marketing efforts (whitepapers, case studies, video, etc). I love my team (we’re hiring) and there’s a lot of great momentum at the company.

Having worked primarily in consumer or SMB software companies in sub-10 person teams in SF, I’ve already seen a lot of differences in how a successful post-Series B enterprise software company based in NYC operates. Just like I did when I moved from SF to DC, I’ve tried to capture some useful ideas here (some big, some small) that might be interesting to you as well.

1. Adopting / switching software is a major decision at bigger companies.

It can affect the workflow of dozens, hundreds, potentially thousands of people in various departments and even external organizations. There might even be changes in power dynamics (ex: maybe with the previous software, finance had total visibility but now they need to wait for a report to get exported by the head of marketing). Making the wrong choice could really screw things up and hurt your career — that’s why people often go with the “safer” big corporate option like Oracle or Adobe or Microsoft.

2. Analysts are important to making decisions.

Building on the previous point, selecting complex software that is supposed to do a lot of stuff can be scary. So buyers need to rely on trusted third-parties like Altimeter, Gartner, Forrester etc to help make recommendations. Trust third parties who do the research and *should* know what the heck they’re talking about. So it becomes important for your business to impress those analysts.

3. Don’t get attached to where you sit.

With a company growing as fast as we have, nothing is sacred. In fact, Noah, one of our cofounders, emphasis the idea of eliminating nostalgia from your mind. When you sign up for a startup, you’re signing up for change. I’ve had to move 3 times since we started. Having a lot of the same tables, chairs, and roll-y drawer things comes in handy.

4. Start documentation from Day One and keep building it.

I wrote about a document that every new hire is asked to read when they start called Day One @ Percolate. It probably started as something smaller, but it’s grown to 18+ pages on everything from password management to the history of the company to the way teams are structured within the company. This is a great doc that helps everyone stay on the same page and I recommend every founder start and maintain one of these. Great for helping new hires “get it” right away.

5. Marketing serves sales when it comes to enterprise.

This is a big one coming from my experiences in consumer software where salespeople are nonexistent or are primarily focused on VIP accounts much later in the company. While interviewing at Percolate, I sat down with Kiva, our VP of Sales and he straight up asked me: “So, how are you going to get me more leads?” I laughed a little inside.

“Right!’ I thought, “This is how it works at enterprise software companies.” Percolate had built out extensive sales and client teams with the founders doing some of the “marketing” functions before we established a full on department almost two years into the company.

6. The demo might be the most important marketing tool.

Our demo is an incredible thing — it’s somewhere between a live version of the software and a powerpoint presentation. There’s a narrative around a fictional brand that shows off the features of the product, and our sales team actually can interact with it in a number of ways (creating example brand content, adding text and crops to an image) that carry over into subsequent screens but yet is controlled so that you basically get to the same result at the end of the day. New features that are almost ready for production can also be previewed using the demo, helping close deals. This is an amazing tool for our sales team and it’s built and constantly updated by marketing.

7. Not everyone is going to work out and that’s ok.

Since I’ve been here, perhaps half a dozen folks have left on their own or were asked to leave due to performance. At first, I wondered if our turnover was a little high and perhaps people weren’t given adequate opportunity to improve. But after speaking with Noah and James about it and hearing more about the struggles at other companies where the leadership won’t get rid of poor performers, I’m definitely on the side of fire fast camp.

8. Founder involvement in sales goes through a dip over time.

Noah and James, our cofounders, spend a fair amount of time with clients and prospects. They often asked by by member of the sales to help get a deal over the finish line or support a big renewal. What they noted was that early on, they were forced by necessity to do a lot of sales (and I bet people didn’t wanted to deal with someone else). As the company grew, they could step back and let the sales people they hired do most of the deals, but as the company has grown and become more visible, having a founder be in the meeting can help signal to vendors that the company takes the relationship seriously.

9. Do user interviews with prospects.

For an enterprise company, we have a very strong design team that really owns the product development process, from user interviews to sketches to flows and visual experience. One thing they do from time to time is take a potential client who’s pretty far down the sales process through a user interview on a new feature we’re working on. This is both valuable for the design team in figuring out what our user needs our, as well as impressing upon prospects just how seriously we take our product development, helping close deals.

10. Get your ideas syndicated to industry publications.

Early on, Noah and James wrote a lot of content that went on sites like Re/Code and TechCrunch and helped cement the company as a major player and get our ideas out there. Developing a reputation as the team that knows what it’s talking about takes time, and contributed articles can really help make that happen.

11. Regularly scheduled events are a powerful tool for recruiting, sales, and retention.

We host a monthly happy hour called Speakeasy either at our office or at a bar nearby and offer free drinks and an opportunity to chat with the team. Usually a third or more of the company is there. It’s been a powerful way to get people who are “curious” about Percolate to meet more of the team and get a good feeling, as well as a way for sales to warm up a prospect, and client solutions to make a customer feel good about coming on board. The fact that it’s ongoing makes it easier for everyone in the company to plan / offer an invite because they can count on it happening regularly.

12. New Yorkers dress way better than Bay Area folks.

Just saying. I’ve definitely had to step up my game here. This is what we look like at work.

Want to come work with yours truly? We’ve got some openings on the marketing team, and just about every other department. Hit me up if you ever have questions.

Please support this site by sharing:

Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

Latest posts by Jason Shen (see all)

Related Posts: