MSMP 81: Jeroen Corthout on Building a SaaS

SaaS is such a key part of the business world in general so it’s always great to go behind the scenes with someone who is actually in the trenches, building and managing a SaaS.  Jeroen Corthout, our guest for today’s episode of the Mads Singers Management Podcast, is building Salesflare, a B2B CRM servicing a few thousand companies.

While you might think of a SaaS as the company that would be most likely to be built by a distributed remote team, prior to March 2020 Salesflare was 100% in-person in Antwerp, Belgium.  Jeroen had believed that everyone “being in the same room” was always going to be the best case scenario.  But what he noticed as the team was forced to go remote via governmental regulations and lockdowns, was that the “same room” philosophy was lazy.  “It meant we were relying on accidentally overhearing something.  There was no system in place.”  That system was put firmly in place as 2020 continued, down to how the team would keep track of decisions in meetings (Google Docs visible to all) and how they could see people’s reactions when they weren’t all in the same room (having everyone tiled during a team call so that everyone could be seen).

This intentionality in communication had long been a hallmark of how Salesflare dealt with customers.  Every developer periodically spends a week on the customer-facing side, to get a sense of what is going on there in terms of customer feedback and technical issues.  Jeroen noted that AI will play a role in software development in the future, but for now it’s up to him and his team to try to anticipate what the customer is thinking using processes like developers listening in on calls or watching chats.

SaaS businesses face several dueling pressures.  One is the question of profitability vs growth.  I was glad to see that Jeroen wasn’t chasing profitability at any cost: he was clearly aware of his niche and stated that at the beginning of the episode.  He also shared his desire to improve the hiring process as the company grows in the future.  The other dueling pressure he has to deal with every day is building vs communicating.  The development team has to build a great product and tries to extract from customers what they like, but more importantly, why they like it.  This communication with the customer is key, and Jeroen encourages this early on by not only adding every potential customer on LinkedIn, letting them know there’s an open door should they wish to talk but also by adding more “free trial” time as those new users complete more tasks within the CRM.  

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If you, like me, find the SaaS trend fascinating, this episode will be a great chance for you to understand it more, from someone who is living it day-to-day.  Enjoy!
 
 
Key Learning Points:
1. Jeroen talks about the essence of what SaaS has to deliver to be competitive - 3:00
2. Jeroen shares the two main jobs of any successful software company - 4:10
3. Jeroen discusses systems he has in place to make sure his team understand how customers are thinking - 7:37
4. Jeroen notes the need to stay in touch with his team and with clients (and how he does both) - 8:14
5. Jeroen explains the process his team uses to improve the product - 9:40
6. Jeroen opines on the game-changing nature of his team going remote due to Covid - 14:54
7. Jeroen stresses the importance of morning standup meetings - 19:35
8. Jeroen ruminates on the push/pull tensions of growth and profitability - 25:50
 
Connect with Jeroen Corthout: