Today, we’re kicking off our SaaS + Tax: Financial Leader Insights series with TaxJar VP of Finance Matt Bieniek. Over the next few weeks, Matt will sit down with different SaaS finance leaders and talk about the changes in the industry, how COVID-19 is impacting SaaS companies, and advice for other SaaS finance leaders.
Matt: Hi, everyone. My name is Matt Bieniek and I’m the VP of Finance at TaxJar. Today, we’re kicking off an interview series for different finance leaders across companies in the SaaS industry. And today we’re welcoming Adam Tesan, the Chief Revenue Officer at Chargebee. Adam, welcome. Nice to have you. Wanted to kick off our conversation today with a few questions to pick your brain on some issues that you might be facing at Chargebee as a company. And then we’ll wrap it up with a fun question. In the nature of TaxJar we’d like to kind of end on a lighthearted note. So to start us off, being a SaaS sales leader, CRO at a company like Chargebee, what would you say are your top three priorities?
Adam: It’s really around scalability and synchronization of the revenue functions. In the business, the role is fairly new, more common in tech companies but the real driver is there are so many growth and revenue generating functions within the business that it’s really about coordinating all of those making sure that they’re in sync and, and ensuring that we’re maximizing the opportunities across the business. Its strategy is also cross functional in nature and aligns with the customer journey and experience as they come into the business. And then of course if you do those top couple things, right, you’re ensuring the revenue and profitability commitments are met for the business by those functions.
Matt: Yeah, all makes sense. I would be interested to learn more about how those priorities might have changed recently. As you think about the recent global environment that has unfolded over the course of the last five or six months with the onset of COVID-19, the business world has also changed a lot. Can you talk to us a little bit more about how those events have caused you to think of things differently about your business or how have they impacted the business for Chargebee?
Adam: Yeah, great question. The topic is in most conversations today about how people are adapting and how it’s impacting different strategies.The unfortunate side effect of this is there are a lot of people and businesses facing hardships not only from the pandemic, but a whole series of unfortunate global events that are happening. We’re actually having a positive growth throughout this whole pandemic. And I think it comes down to one, the kind of market that we’re in, and then the fundamentals of our business. I think it was Churchill that said, “never, never let a good crisis go to waste” and at the onset of it, we were unsure what it was going to look like for us. So as you get into things like, how do you start planning and forecasting and in situations like that, you move out of kind of forecasting models to scenario planning, like what a scenario A, B and C looks like and any implications there.
As I mentioned, we’ve been fortunate enough that we’re going through some really positive growth rates throughout this. And not all our customers are. I think one of the things that it did for us was force us into a deeper analysis and understanding of our customer base. We thought we had a good handle on it, but we really needed to get deep and granular and understand the impact on each of the subsections of customers so we could then formulate different strategies for those that were being adversely affected. Some of our customers were actually going into hyper growth mode. Those that were providing services that manage remote workers, for example, or entertainment services. And then there were the negatively affected ones that could have been providing services in the hospitality and travel industry. So, it forced us to get really deep and granular on the understanding of our customers, which was great. So again, that was a good forcing function for us. And then the other thing that it did, which is related to the actual role in and of itself, is it drove more cross functional collaboration and quicker execution in our business.
It feels like a lifetime ago, when the pandemic really started to hit in March. But things were moving so fast, they were so fluid, it was so unpredictable. And so what it really got us to do was get some of the best minds in our business from all the functions together. We had to move quickly and learn to experiment. We were of the mindset, come up with a couple of ideas in a couple days and get it out in seven days, see what happens and adjust because our customers need help.
Matt: Yep, that all makes sense. TaxJar went through a very similar set of exercises as things started to unfold there. We had to get our heads together pretty quickly and get decisive in a space where there was so much uncertainty and to your point, the ability to move quickly and adapt. I think it is really important in what are unprecedented, sad circumstances. So you touched on collaboration as one thing that was really helpful to Chargebee, getting together as a team and focusing on opportunities in the market. What other advice do you have for other SaaS leaders that are trying to navigate what this situation has brought to bear in terms of managing a business? Any other advice you would give leaders at SaaS companies?
Adam: Yeah, I’m always looking for advice myself. Some of the things that we’ve learned over time is that cross collaboration will lead into functions like who we’ve marketed to and with our customer base, but not extensively and it really forced us to drive that focus from that function. And on the product side, we adjusted our product roadmap fairly quickly.
In a SaaS business your lifetime value of customers and other metrics that we look at when deciding how to hold onto those customers is extremely important. We had to really take a look at how we could make changes for our customers. So allowing a pause and allowing price flexibility on the sales side so we can keep the engine moving, I think was good for us. I think overall hyper focus and more intense focus on your existing customers and helping them through this pandemic was something that we did and we’ve benefited from, and then iterated fast and experimented. That speed was not a muscle that was in our business, necessarily. I think that it’s important as well. Iterate, fail fast experiments. If you’re moving with the right intent for helping your customers out, then you know that all will be well.
Matt: Really useful and helpful perspective and insight. Just kind of shifting gears a bit. I think this question might have been easier to answer before all the things that we’ve been talking about started to take shape over the course of the last six months. But if you think about the next three to five years, how do you see SaaS generally as an industry evolving? And maybe the answer to that question is different sort of pre and post pandemic, but just interested to hear your thoughts on that.
Adam: I think you’re right, it is different. For scale up businesses, like ours, looking three to five years out is always tough, just due to the normal speed of change. And how things evolve. But it was Microsoft that said they saw two years of digital transformation happen in two months. And that’s still happening. So the speed of evolution while it was already fast has been hyper accelerated. The other thing is, it’s going to force every company to use cloud solutions. Because every business is now forced into the cloud, just due to the distributed workforces that they have in order to get services to their employees deliver service, their customers, they’re forced into that. So it’s accelerating exponentially. And for me this was always happening. But the lines blurred between consumer business technologies with regards to design the expectations from B2B SaaS software. Today, I’m now the consumer of these products and my expectation is that attention to design and UI is there. There’s an acceleration of this digital transformation, and there’s going to be probably an acceleration of the inevitable consolidation.
Matt: Yeah, no, that makes sense for sure. How is your role as a revenue leader or go to market leader inside of a SaaS company that needs to evolve in order to match those trends?
Adam: Yeah, I think going back to the first question is kind of what it’s all about and it’s a lot to do with the customer journey and customer experience. And if I think about my role and focus right now, that is what’s going to get accentuated and become a bigger and bigger part of the role. The whole kind of customer experience and customer delight is directly tied to key revenue metrics.
Whether it’s the ability to expand and grow with a customer, really has a lot to do with our experience and then going to you in the SaaS world, and specifically in our world where we talk subscriptions, you have to earn that customer’s business every day and so that becomes more and more important. And so it becomes more of our role and we’re actually thinking about experimenting with it. Creating a Director of Customer Experience that’s going to be part of the business and again working cross functionally. I’m trying to figure out all the areas where we can improve that experience and where the customer interacts and have somebody own that in its entirety. That’ll be a fairly new area for us and we’ll continue to build on the other side with marketing and sales convergence. The account-based marketing methodology has been around for a while but when you really do it well, it means that there’s an unbelievably tight integration and working relationship happening between sales and marketing. Things like how you set up your systems, your processes and how you execute on those, it’s almost like being in a rowboat where you’re not all synchronized rowing. It’s not going to work very well and that’s what people slip up a little bit there.
Matt: Fantastic. Well, hey, you know, I’d like to take an opportunity to finish our chat here, on sort of a lighthearted note. As you know, TaxJar is a fully-remote company and has been remote since the beginning. So for companies that were more office-centric, and have since had to pivot due to the pandemic, they are now realizing the benefits of a remote workforce. If you could work remotely anywhere, anywhere in the world, where would you like to work remotely?
Adam: Great, great question and fairly easy for me to answer. I’d be in Portugal, in one of two places. Either in Lisbon or down on the Algarve near Lagos.
Matt: Yeah, I have not had the opportunity to make it to Portugal, a good friend of mine traveled there a couple years ago and had amazing things to say about it. So when I get there, I’ll come seek you out for some recommendations.
Anyways, fantastic, very good. Hey, Adam, wanted to just say thank you again, for your time today and for sharing your thoughts and perspectives with us.
Adam: Thanks, Matt. Enjoyed the conversation. Thanks very much. Talk to you soon. Cheers.
Looking for more SaaS content?
And check out why Quimbee trusts TaxJar with their sales tax compliance.