You might have heard about CB Insights. I was always wondering what CB stood for. In today's CB Insights newsletter I saw a link to one of their earlier posts, from 2017, titled as "Don’t Do These 68 Things in Your SaaS Company". Within that 68 points, I discovered that CB is for Chubby Brain.
Besides this fact, reading through the list I realized that hidden in the referenced video presentation and the transcript, these 68 learnings Anand Sanwal, CEO of CB Insights, points out are not only relevant for SaaS companies but should be read by many more. To get similar gems from him right to your email as well, subscribe to CB Insights newsletter.
If you don't have time to watch the whole presentation video, I've extracted the whole list of those 68 points here below:
Don't do these 68 things in your SaaS company
This will be useless for wantrepreneurs, people who believe VC is required to build a biz, folks who can’t grind, or folks selling $9.95/month SaaS products (and many others)
1 DON’T take advice from non-customers
“Only take advice from those who have to live with the consequences” (quote by Mark Cuban)
2 DON’T tolerate high-performing assholes
They might provide short-term benefit but are cancerous to culture long-term.
3 DON’T fall in love with pedigree
There are plenty of smart folks who aren’t Google or Stanford alums.
4 DON’T half-ass onboarding of new teammates
Teammates make decisions to stay quickly. First impressions matter.
5 DON’T believe you have to raise VC
This narrative is great for VCs but is BS. Revenue is the best funding.
6 DON’T be pressured into raising VC
Just because a competitor did doesn’t mean anything.
7 DON’T let them call you a lifestyle business
You can revenue-fund a giant (Mailchimp, Atlassian)
8 DON’T waste money on PR to get customers
Especially early, do it on your own. Know what PR is good for.
9 DON’T chase press in sexy but irrelevant media
It’s easier to go after niche media which is less sexy and more useful.
10 DON’T believe your own hype
People are saying your co is amazing. Enjoy & forget. Stay paranoid.
11 DON’T get fixated on losses
If you’re doing it right, you’ll probably lose a lot. It sucks but try to forget.
12 DON’T think you know your end-market from day one
Be promiscuous in the early days. Sometimes, customers show up you didn’t expect.
13 DON’T be promiscuous about your market forever
At some point, you have enough data. Pick a market and attack it.
14 DON’T hire smart people and “figure it out later”
People do better with clear goals and priorities especially early on.
15 DON’T hire under pressure
Every time we’ve rushed a hiring decision, we’ve regretted it.
16 DON’T fire slow
Easier said than done TBH but culture is driven by people you hire and fire.
17 DON’T inflate people’s titles
When your startup scales, the inflated title holders get demoted. Not good.
18 DON’T be afraid to hire expert advisors
We did too much non-core stuff on our own in the beginning. Made mistakes.
19 DON’T be afraid to fire expert advisors
Sometimes, people/firms coast by on reputation. If you find this, run.
20 DON’T do what Slack, Dropbox, Evernote do
Everyone is super smart until they’re not. Do what is good for your biz.
21 DON’T believe the easy hype BS
You can’t growth hack your way to $100M in revenue.
22 DON’T don’t believe being outfunded matters
Money buys you time. It doesn’t buy you the ability to execute.
23 DON’T only celebrate big wins or sales wins
Highlight big and small milestones and recognize folks behind them.
24 DON’T sell to startups
No money. High churn. They die. The definition of SaaS hell.
25 DON’T be the lowest priced product in the market
This path generally sucks. Trust me.
26 DON’T get cute with pricing
It’s confusing and nobody is buying your important, awesome product cuz of this.
27 DON’T be afraid to ask if your product idea sucks
Customers will tell you if it’s something they’d pay for. They want you to win.
28 DON’T respond to trolls
Obvious but don’t. (TBH, I still do this to F with them from time-to-time)
29 DON’T worry about perfecting your tech too early
Revenues > technical debt. This will change as you scale.
30 DON’T be boring
So much software marketing is boring. Have a voice. Be interesting.
31 DON’T chase startup fads
Badges, AI. Big Data. Does it help customers?
32 DON’T think biz dev / CS will learn through osmosis
Not investing in training as you scale will hurt you.
33 DON’T wait to hire customer success
Even if churn is low, hire CS folks to ensure customers love you.
34 DON’T believe in the one hire messiah
If you’ve got a mess, someone may fix it. But don’t bank on it.
35 DON’T half-ass reference checks
Whether it’s a new teammate, investor or important advisor, vet them hard.
36 DON’T meet with VCs unless you’re ready to raise
If you meet them, even casually, it’s a pitch.
37 DON’T price based on competition
If you’re indistinguishable from competition, that’s a problem.
38 DON’T think channel partnerships will save you
It’s hard to get someone else to do the selling for you.
39 DON’T dominate conversations w/ customers
The more customers talk during conversations, the better.
40 DON’T try to delegate product management too early
In the beginning, the product managers are the founders & engineers.
41 DON’T forget to ask for the sale
A quick yes is amazing. And a quick no is also pretty good. Don’t get strung along.
42 DON’T listen to people w/ no $ who want to “integrate”
99% of time, these people are collosal wastes of time. Show me the money.
43 DON’T fear non-scalable work
Elegant solutions are often not worth the effort. Love the grind.
44 DON’T worry about competition
Focus on the customer night and day. (Hint: Read Jeff Bezos on this topic)
45 DON’T give a shit about Hacker News
God – we wasted so much time trying to get on the HN front page.
46 DON’T try to innovate in HR
Focus your innovation efforts on your product.
47 DON’T give perks you can’t give forever
If the market turns downward, and the perk wouldn’t survive, don’t give it.
48 DON’T hire salespeople till you can sell it yourself
If you’re the founder and can’t sell the shit out of it, nobody else will.
49 DON’T think all leads are created equal
Double down on best ones. Some will never buy. Forget them.
50 DON’T try to please everyone
You’ll build a crappy product that doesn’t get anyone fired up.
51 DON’T worry about your personal brand
Unless it helps recruit teammates or customers, why bother?
52 DON’T try to act like a “salesperson”
There is not one way to sell. Do what’s comfortable.
53 DON’T ignore sales advice
There is a lot of wisdom out there. Use it.
54 DON’T do ‘demos’. Have conversations
You’re not a tool with buttons and features. Position yourself as more.
55 DON’T be lazy after your first conversation
People are busy and aren’t fixated on you. You have to keep them interested.
56 DON’T buy whole grape / piece of watermelon thing
Focus on the narrative that works for you. Not one foisted upon you.
57 DON’T believe the media/VC survivorship bias
79% of exits are < $200M. Google and Facebook are freaks.
58 DON’T always look for new channels
It’s better to be killer at a few channels than suck at many
59 DON’T pointlessly network
If you’re emailing to pick people’s brains, swap notes, etc, stop it. Now.
60 DON’T be a ‘conference ho’
See earlier slide on pointless networking. Don’t mistake activity for progress.
61 DON’T hesitate to ”flood the zone”
Once you find something works, milk the hell out of it.
62 DON’T deceive yourself on the size of your market
Build a product and price with your market in mind.
63 DON’T fetishize failure
Failure blows. Don’t make it ok and say it was a learning experience.
64 DON’T worry about your name & logo too much
Cuz you will never do worse than us. CB Insights began as ChubbyBrain.
65 DON’T expect clients to tell you what product to build
First, it is not their job. Second, their feedback will often be incremental.
66 DON’T do feature demos
Nobody really cares. They want to know why it makes their lives better.
67 DON’T ever forget WIIFM
Nobody gives a shit about your product. They care about What’s In It For Me?
68 DON’T blindly follow this advice
There is no playbook. Anyone who tells you there is one is stupid and/or a charlatan.
While the last point is true, then these are Anand's learnings on scaling to $10 million in ARR completely bootstrapped. And that's impressive!
I've been reading a bunch of books on the matter as well, but if you'd need an absolute quick course on building startups without any BS, it is a very good summary what you need to know.