In this episode of SaaS Origin Stories, John Stojka, Co-Founder of Sertifi, joins Phil Alves to discuss the benefits and challenges of bootstrapping versus raising capital and vertical versus horizontal markets.
You found a problem and came up with an idea of how to solve it. All you have to do now is make it a reality. To do that you need a great plan to launch your business, get money, find your product-market fit, and so on. And one of the best ways to do that is by taking examples from successful SaaS founders, like John Stojka, the Co-Founder of Sertifi.
In this episode, we discuss:
Finalizing Business Faster
Sertifi provides an agreement platform that brings contracts and payments together. Historically, people would send the contract, get it signed, and then request the payment. The platform combines those things into one process and builds a workflow around that. The idea for Sertifi came to John and Nick when they noticed that the contracts were getting lost and the contract execution component was time-consuming.
We thought that the most important thing was to make sure that the contract signing and the payment processes were easy - John Stojka
Bootstrapping Versus Funding a SaaS Business
If you raise too much money too quickly, the risk of you not having a great outcome can be higher, and there is also time pressure that comes from the investors. When investors give you money, they expect you to either become a huge success or die. When bootstrapping, you move at your own pace, and the chances of your business growing are much higher. But, if you don't invest enough, and you don't get the capital that you need, you could miss the market too, and someone else will fill the gap.
If you can get product market fit and some acceleration, I think you're pretty likely to get a base hit or a double, maybe even a triple. But if you're gonna raise a lot of capital, you will be gunning for that Grand Slam - John Stojka
Finding Your Vertical
If you build a product and choose a vertical market, you can expand to other verticals. Besides, in a vertical market, it may be an easier customer solution. A horizontal market is more challenging and competitive and requires more money to succeed. The challenge is to find your vertical. The best way to do that is by asking the following questions: Has this market adopted any tool like this yet? Is there a standard CRM or a place of integration I can integrate into? Is there a need for this product?
You pick a small pond, and you dominate it. We had this product that could solve various problems for many different people. But we didn't start getting success until about 2015 when we verticalized the solution for a specific vertical - John Stojka
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John Stojka: We saw that with our business. If you don't invest enough and you don't get the capital behind you that you need, you could miss the market too and you can let someone else take the market. There's risk on both sides of it. Speaker 1: Welcome to SaaS Origin Stories. Tune in to hear authentic conversations with founders as they share stories from the earlier days of their SaaS startups. We'll cover painful challenges, early wins and actionable takeaways. You'll hear firsthand the dos and don'ts of building and growing a SaaS as well as inspirational stories to fuel you on your own SaaS journey. Here is your host, Phil Alves. Phil Alves: Welcome to the show, everybody. Today I have John Stojka from Sertifi. I'm very excited to chat with him about his journey to build his company to where it is today. Welcome to the show, John. John: Thanks, Phil. Glad to be here. Phil: To start, can you please tell us a little bit about your company and what problem does it solve? John: Yes. Sertifi provides an agreement platform that enables you to collect a contract as well as a payment together. We couple those things together. Historically, people would send a contract out, get it signed and then request a payment after the fact. We coupled those things together and built a workflow around that. Phil: That's awesome. You're solving the problem of having to use multiple tools because if you are going to sign an agreement, you're usually going to request payment later and you're just trying to make that easier for people. Could you tell us a little bit more about how the idea come about of building that product? John: Yes, so it came from some real estate business that we were in and we noticed that the contracts were getting lost. They were difficult to find and even the contract execution component of it was time-consuming. This is around 2008, so it was about seven years after Bill Clinton signed the E-sign Act which essentially gave the legal equivalent to an electronic signature to a handwritten signature, and that was a big deal. There was a flurry of startups that happened around 2000, 2001, 2002 but they all failed. We believe that the problem was, the reason they failed was because they're trying to solve the problem of identity. Making sure that the person who is signing the document is actually the person they say they are. We thought the problem was more geared towards ease of use. We thought that the most important thing was to actually make sure that the contract signing process and the payment process was easy. That's how we came about the idea. Our first customer was a company called CareerBuilder. The way we learned was we actually sat in the office with the sales reps. I'd watch them send out a contract and I'd watch them sit by the fax machine and verify a signed contract. I'm like, "Well, how do you know that the person that you send to is actually the signor on here?" They're like, "I don't. I just see a signature on the bottom of the page and that's good enough for me." I'm like, "Well, that's perfect. We could verify all that for you." Phil: That's awesome. You realized people were solving the wrong problem. That even the technology that people were using back in the day didn't solve that problem of identity. John: Yes, exactly. A lot of it is product-market fit too. The identity step is really important when you come to more sophisticated agreements or agreements that have more collateral, that have more monetary component to it. We felt, "Hey, look, if you're really going to make it really easy to use, then you can solve the problem for maybe the high velocity people." People who are sending out lots of contracts and they're lower dollar value and that's where problems with credibility came into play. Phil: You say you were in real estate before, so you are already dealing with a lot of contracts before you start this business? John: I was in a manufacturing company and part of what we had was real estate. That's where it was coming from, was the real estate component in that business. Phil: Yes, but in that business you had to deal with a lot of signing of agreements or that was a problem that you found in the market but you didn't leave that problem yourself? John: Yes, I think the business itself, it was a problem that I had and it was a pain that I was feeling. That's where a lot of these businesses come from. I think that's where a lot of good ideas are generated and then you got to go out to the market and typically validate it. You say, "Okay, I'm feeling this pain but are lots of other people feeling this pain?" Phil: Yes, I'm a big believer of founder market fit even before product market fit. A lot of people don't believe in that and it's a hot topic. I would love to hear your take. Do you think you had product founder fit or it didn't matter? John: I think we had a product founder fit but you're always a function of all of your past experiences too. All these little things that you do in your career and your life always lead you to hopefully founding your company or that big idea that you have. Before that, I lived in San Francisco, I was working for a technology company. We were doing actually web conferencing in 1996, so we were doing video and IP audio. We're one of the first companies that do that. That experience taught me that everything was going to go on the web at some point. All the business transactions that we have, all of our experiences will be web enabled. I'm looking at this paper world and I'm saying, "Well, why isn't that digitized yet? Why is that not going to the web as well?" That helped me as well and then seeing it in practicality helped us. Then we said, okay, let's go out and let's find the early adopters in this market and let's see if we can change the way people do business. Phil: To paraphrase what you said, basically, your life experiences in what you were you believe it made you the right founder for that company? John: Yes. Never undervalue your experiences wherever you're working. I've seen people who work at a beverage store selling alcohol, all of sudden get into the delivery business and all these different components of it. Whatever you're doing, whatever job you have will teach you something about a market fit somewhere down the road. Phil: Yes. I'm a big believer in that. In my own consulting firm, we build a lot of SaaS products and most of the times just an industry expert that come to us. I know everything about industry X, I want to build a SaaS for it. When I hear that, I usually know it's going to be a success because that person really understand that market and they view the experience, like you say, in whatever job they were doing. You decide to start the company. We talk about how your experience and you saw the market opportunity but when you decide to start the company, I know you decide to bootstrap that company. Why was that? Why you didn't want to raise any money? Why you decide to self-fund? John: Yes, I think the last company I came from wasn't bootstrapped, so I was part of a company. We raised about 60 million and this is '96, '97, 2000, so that was a lot of money at the time. I learned that a lot of times the risk-reward can get out of whack. If you raise too much money too quickly, believe it or not, the risk of you not having a great outcome can actually be higher. Bootstrapping a business, if you can get product market fit, if you get some acceleration, I think you're pretty likely to get a base hit or a double, maybe even a triple. If you're going to raise a lot of capital, you got to be gunning for that grand slam. Phil: Having that company, the experience, maybe you felt, "I don't want to be under all that pressure. I want to be more in charge," go deeper on that. John: Yes. I think at the end of the day, it really comes to time. Timeframe, so if you raise capital, you need to compress your time component. Instead of having a 10-year timeframe to execute against what you want to execute, you got a three-year. There's a lot of factors that may help you or may go against you. You may have customers, deals are taking a little bit longer than you hoped, maybe your products take a little bit longer, maybe adoption's not where it needs to be yet. You could have the right idea but just be too early. I think that's what happened to people in our market. I mentioned that they passed the E-sign Act in 2000 and there's probably about 100 companies that tried to build electronic signature software but the market just wasn't ready yet. I think that's really important. For us, we've been around since 2008. It's been a long run but I would say that it didn't come without a lot of trips and stumbles. Sometimes if you have investors, they're not going to be as patient with those stumbles. Phil: Yes, I agree with you. You are able to move more at your own pace and you're more likely to survive because when investors give you money, they expect you to either become a huge success or die. They don't want your company to just be making it. They do 10 investments and they know nine is going to fail and they're going to pressure the founders to either grow or run the company to the ground. That's why I'm a bootstrapper myself and I feel like the definition of success really change because what is success for bootstrapper may not be a success for an investor but if you just stay longer enough, you might be just as big as those VC fund companies. You just are not trying to move at that pace. John: There's a counterweight too. On the other side of that too, there's risk, and we saw that with our business. If you don't invest enough and you don't get the capital behind you that you need, you could miss the market too and you can let someone else take the market, so there's risk on both sides of it. Phil: Yes. I believe there's no one right answer. Depending what you are doing, the right answer for you maybe I need a lot of money because of the timing. I have to move quick. Depending on what you're doing, either you're better off moving slower and be a little more patient. If you can try to understand your business better and decide what you need is not just like, "Oh, because X did that." There's not one way to get things done, right? John: Yes, and I'm a big believer. The advice I give to a lot of people starting businesses is I think the first thing you should do is go read Peter Thiel's book Zero to One, and I think there are lessons in there. Have you read that before? Phil: Yes, I have read that book. John: Okay. [laughter] John: I think it makes a lot of sense. If you pick a small pond, you'll dominate it. I think the problem that we had was that we have a solution that can solve a lot of problems for a lot of different people. We really didn't have any success or starting getting success since about 2015 until we verticalized this solution for a specific vertical. Now, for example, we serve the travel and hospitality market. We are the largest provider of e-signatures of payment solutions in the market. We have about 16,000 properties in our platform. Organizations like Topgolf, and Dave & Busters, and Hyatt, and Hilton, and Marriott, they all standardize in our solution. Now, that was our pond and we've dominated it. Dominating a vertical, there's a lot of different advantages to it. You obviously have sales and marketing advantages to it, because your tax will eventually become lower over time, because word of mouth spreads very, very quickly, but you also have a great moat around your business too, because you're able to build it once and sell it many, many times. It's really difficult for a competitor to come in there no matter how big they are. Phil: Yes, for sure. That's the advice that I always tell people. You have to understand what a horizontal market is, and not a vertical market is. Maybe your horizontal marketing is you do e-signature and payment, but what's your vertical marketing? You're telling me it's travel, it's company like Topgolf. When you are starting, you have to be in their vertical and dominate their vertical. We have built so many CRMs and there's Salesforce, the big 10,000 gorillas dominated the horizontal, but they can't win the vertical because someone built a CRM just for the industry. They can't touch the industry, and that's an advice that I give people all the time. If you're going to build a product, you choose a vertical, and as you grow, you can go in more and more verticals, and eventually, you might become a horizontal product, especially for bootstrapping. Because if you go back, and if you want to start in the horizontal, that's going to require so much money. If you go into a vertical, you're going to know where to find your people, how to communicate to your people. It's going to make a huge difference, but it is a huge challenge to find a vertical, so let's dive deeper. How did you find your vertical? How hard it was? You say it took a bunch of years. What did you try? What worked? What didn't work? Let's talk more about that. John: What happened was around 2013/'14, we started to see that we were going to have to raise a lot of capital to compete with some competitors that did raise a lot of capital in the horizontal or we're going to go vertical. I always wanted to build a vertical software business. I never really wanted to build a horizontal software business. I always felt that the vertical plays were much stronger over the long run. At that time, we decided, "Hey, look, we're really going to verticalize this." We had a lot different customers. We had customers in financial services. We had customers in real estate. We have customers in tech. We had customers in health care. We always have a variety of customers. I basically spent a year, and I went out on the street, and I went to a lot of trade shows. I'd go to insurance trade show, for example. Meet as many people as I could there, just to put up a booth and see what kind of conversations we're getting. I did that with probably about eight or nine different verticals. There's some criteria that I had. One of the criteria is were, okay, has this market adopted any tool like this yet? Is there a standard CRM or a place of integration that I can integrate into? Is there a big need for this product, obviously? The industry that we found that match our criteria. There's lots of them, but the one that we picked was hotels. Actually it was hotels and medical. There's actually a vertical inside of medicals called home hospice that we picked, but we eventually decided to focus really just on hotels. Phil: That's awesome, so that was your first vertical and then you started from there. How much of your customer base, because you say you had customers spread out, so you decided to go in hospitality, hotels. How much of your customer base was the vertical that you chose when you chose? John: Zero, pretty much, and I never worked for a hotel either. [laughter] Phil: It was out of your research, after you went to other trade shows, you were like, "Okay, this is where we're going to go."? John: Yes, it was pretty much zeroing. We said, "Well, they meet the criteria for a market that need this tool. They will eventually adopt it, so we're going to have to work and get the product geared for it, make sure the product market fit." A lot of it just really came down on the sales side of it. The next step was, and I'm a big fan of Geoffrey Moore, so Geoffrey Moore, he has a couple of books out there. If you're starting a business, I really highly recommend that you read them. The big one is Crossing the Chasm. He really talks about if you're going to go into a vertical, you know how to really get through that vertical. The first stage of the bell curve is the early adopters. Then, you have the early majority, then you have the majority, and the late majority. Now your question is, "Okay, how do I find the early adopters in this vertical?" Then, we'd look at, "Okay, what is the behavior of an early adopter?" For us, it was, "Okay, what tools are they using?" We listed out three different tools that we thought an early adopter would have in that vertical. If you use that tool, then we're going to try to sell you our tools, what we thought were the next iteration for you. Phil: Nice. I really like how you build that strategy, so you build the profile. How did that pan out? Did that work very well, you guys had to adapt? Your hypothesis was proven? How did that go? John: Yes, it just takes a lot of digging. We hired some BDRs. I hired two BDRs, salespeople, and pretty much all their job was to give a list of these different property management companies and brands in the market, and I said, "Start calling them, don't sell anything, just ask them why are you using this, this, and this tool." Once we did that, we compiled the list and we found out there's about 100 companies, 100 hotels in that category. Then, we just began the marketing efforts. I said, "Okay, these are customers that we think are early adopters. Let's start messaging to them," and eventually, we get one of those customers, and then two, and then three, and then four, and now we have 16,000. Phil: Whoa, and is that still your biggest vertical today or from there you repeat the process to open other verticals for your product? How did that go? John: Yes, so this is our primary vertical today. Once you go into a vertical and you feel like you've built your moats, then you can start to look at other verticals. Since this is a horizontal tool, we have been looking at other places that we can go. Now, what we deploy is our win and extend model. You win the vertical, but then you extend through your customer's value chain. That can mean lots of different things, but what it means for us is that we're now extending through our customers. For example, Hyatt, there are other Hyatt Hotels that use our platform. One of the constituents that they deal frequently with is travel agents. Now, we're seeing travel agents who are beginning to need our tool. There's a network effect there because they need to be able to use the tool in conjunction with Hyatt. Now we're extending through the highest value chain and selling as a travel agent, and will continue to extend in that model. Phil: That's amazing. I love the model. I think that's an amazing device for everyone starting a SaaS product, like finding out a vertical, and then, extend on the vertical. Even if you're building a horizontal product like you did, it's amazing because if you keep growing that product. I love to talk about how to get customers in this show, and I think we did a good job here. Thanks for your insight. I'd like to move on to other topics. Now, we have a big organization of about 100 people, that's the size of the organization today, right? John: Yes, with 120 people, growing 30/40%. We did go through COVID, so for the event industry, it was pretty disastrous. It was pretty difficult, but ironically, we did grow about 10% per year through COVID, so we're happy with that. Phil: That's amazing. What I want to ask you, back in the day, when you're starting your first hires, now, we have past 100 people, and are any of those people are still in the company today? John: Yes. We made some turnover during COVID, but early on, we had a high retention rate. We had, I think, 92, 93%, it was higher than that, retention with our employees. We had very little employees leave. Now, as we've been expanding, we're not only hiring inside Chicago, but we're hiring around the country as well. We have a hybrid model. We have a primary office in Chicago, but if you choose to if you want to join us, you can work from anywhere. Phil: Nice. Who was your first hire and how was it to build the first version of your project back in 2008 when you were doing it? John: Yes, the first hire was a programmer. I was the sales guy, so I'd hire programmers to build stuff, so we'd go out to the customer which was CareerBuilder, and we spec it off for them, and then we'd have the programmers and developers start to build it. Phil: Do you still feel like that was the right first hire for your SaaS or would you do anything different? John: For me, it was because I'm not a programmer, but if you're a programmer, you might want to hire a salesperson. Phil: [laughs] John: [unintelligible 00:19:57]. Phil: That's awesome. What is some of the early mistakes that you made in the first years or first two years, that you feel like other founders could avoid, that you could maybe share with people? John: I think verticalizing probably a little bit earlier would have been better. We actually did verticalize a bit-- Earlier on, we saw Salesforce becoming a really predominant CRM. I think the mistake was that we confused Salesforce as a vertical and not just a platform. We said, "Hey, everybody who uses Salesforce can use our tool theoretically." Which was true. It was an integration point rise. A tiny integration point, but that was really difficult to sell to because there are always certain verticals with all these different requirements. A medical customer can use Salesforce and they had HIPAA requirements. A financial service customer can use Salesforce and they had workflow requirements. There's just all these different requirements that we weren't able to consolidate them and then scale that. The deal with software is you build at once and sell many times. Phil: That's pretty cool because it looks like we talk about horizontal and verticals but there is one-third way that you can specialize your software with the platform and that looks like that's what you try at the beginning. You can make a software, let's say, everyone that use Salesforce, and you could have a plug-in of integration, you can do for Shopify, you can build on the platforms that are out there. I agree with you, it could be great earlier on but there's also the problem with the platform just decided that they don't like you anymore. [laughs] My take from what you say is, you went platform first, you wish you had gone vertical first, but you never tried to go horizontal first, which would be very, very hard. John: Very hard. You can do it. You can definitely do it. It's going to take some capital. It could be done. Someone's got to do it. Phil: I feel like the people that go raise out that money, that's where they have to play. If you want to be a bootstrap, you should play as a platform or a vertical, at least in the early days. John: It's going to be interesting to see. I wish to see Salesforce as a business in the CRM space because it's like what you said, it's funny, every vertical I go into, they have their own CRM. If you are in an auto repair shop, there's an auto repair CRM. If you are in medical, there is a medical CRM. If you are in hotels, hotels have their own CRM. It's based on [unintelligible 00:22:30] platform. I would be curious to see what happens to the business. I think Salesforce is really big in the enterprise and the tech side. I think that's where they have a lot of success. Phil: For sure. They might even have to verticalize themselves because the last eight years running my consulting firm, I don't know how many CRMs for X we built. [laughs] Most of them become very successful because everyone is just like, "Let me go take this market from Salesforce. Let me go take this market from Salesforce." John: Yes. [inaudible 00:23:01] horizontal plays for how long-- I'm curious to see how that really pans out for them, how long it really lasts. Like you said, they are going to have to verticalize it. Phil: What has been your biggest challenge to-date? John: I think it depends on the stage you are at. I think every stage of your business is different. I think once you build it, your challenge should be scaling it, so finding some customers to buy it. Once you find enough customers to buy it, there is a lot of complexity into building a really good infrastructure too. Making sure that you're supporting your customers. That's something that, obviously, these CRM providers do really well. I would say that Salesforce is probably a big investment for them is to make sure that their infrastructure is reliable and secure. Once you get past that, then once you've built this really secure and reliable infrastructure, then you got to iterate quickly. You got to be innovative. That's hard to do when you're trying to make sure that you are very secure, very reliable, and those kind of things don't always go hand in hand. I say it's different stages. I think for us right now it's just a lot of just everyday execution, making sure that we keep the trains running on time. We're talking to our right customers, and to the customers, we're making sure they are happy and attracting new ones. Phil: Yes, I agree with you. For sure. Each stage is going to have different challenges. I guess because this show is about helping people and learning about the early days of your SaaS, could you share a challenge from the early days, maybe with a story? How it went, and how you guys solved that specific challenge? John: Geez. Which one? My gosh. There are so many of them. Actually, building up the platform was probably one of the easier things for us. We didn't have that much scale so we could just iterate it very, very quickly and build stuff. I think just getting customers, getting adoption, and finding your place in the market. In all fairness, there is probably 30 or 40 companies that were trying to do what we're doing, and eventually, now there's probably three or four. You're going to have to compete too and there's going to be winners and there's going to be losers. Phil: For sure. I agree with you. Finding your place in the market, and go back to the team they have been talking to the whole show is a platform, it is a horizontal what we were going to do. Where do you fit in that market? If you don't figure that out fast enough, you're not going to be in that market at all. [laughs] John: I know some providers that stayed. The thing for us is that we were never considering ourselves an e-signature place. We always thought that it was more about the whole process. The whole closing process. The negotiation component, the signing of the contract, the payment, all those things, and the workflows around them. The signature was just one thing that you do. We always looked at ourselves that way. We were always looking at at verticals that needed more than just getting that contract signed. We thought that was somewhat simplistic. We had to find that vertical that needed it, and that's why travel and hospitality really fit us well. For them, if you're going to book a room, let's say that you're going to have a party at Dave & Buster's, they are actually going to hold the room for you, a facility for you. They are going to have some food and everything. Getting a contract signed to them is not that valuable. What is valuable is getting the money. They won't know that you're really serious, and you really want to have in the vent until they collect the cash. Phil: Yes, for sure. John: That was the most important thing to them. That's the part that we really help them facilitate. Phil: I think that's amazing. You need to understand what's the biggest pain that you are solving for a customer. Going further, when did you know that you had a product that people really love? At what point did you know that and that your company would last? John: I think when you started to see the adoption happen a little bit quicker. I was really surprised that we started having more and more customers. We had these advocates that would go out and talk about our solution. I saw people posting it and I see leads coming in like, "Hey, I heard about you from so and so, and this person said that she uses you guys." We're like, "Okay. Wow." We're seeing this repetition happen, this repeatable, scalable sales process. This is a good fit for this market. Phil: Nice. When you start seeing they were going to grow from especially referrals you start to feel, "Okay. We're building something that people love." John: We could see the signs. It won't feel great. You won't feel like you're cruising, but once you see, it's the moment I'm starting to go on your side there. Phil: What was your biggest fear when you were in the first days of Sertifi? John: Funny, you get into it and you're so excited. You're like, "What? This is going to be awesome. I can't wait." [laughter] John: Then the reality hits you. I think the biggest fear is failure. I think that's always everybody's fear. Eventually, you're just going to fail. Every day there's different fears, systems not functioning properly it's going to go down or if you're going to have enough money to make payroll, customer cancellations, losing deals, whatever it is. You're going to have lots and lots of failures throughout the time period. You just got to hope that you just have some successes. Over time, your successes will compound. Phil: How do you overcome those fears? Like you said, there were more success than failures, or what did you do to overcome your fears? John: I think you just get up the next day and go at it again. That was what we were talking about we being bootstrapped. A lot of times if you're not bootstrapped sometimes the clock just kind of winds down on you, and you lose, and you got to go. When you are bootstrapped, you are in control. You're like, "We didn't figure it out yesterday but we can try to figure it out today. I think you just keep going at it and you keep iterating, and keep iterating, and keep iterating. As long as your long-term vision in the product that you have makes sense and is valuable to the market, at some point I think you will succeed. Phil: Yes, for sure. Just stay long enough and stay open-minded to make the changes that you need to make. Through this show, we talk about a lot of changes that you have made through your business to get where you are today. Let's say you could go back in time, you go back to 2008 when you started this business to meet yourself and you have about an hour with yourself, what would you tell yourself in that hour? John: Ironically, I would just tell myself to have a lot of fun. Just enjoy it. Some of the failures and the people that you meet will be the greatest things for you. Those are the things that you will cherish the most out of that experience. I look back now and when we were 10-20 people, it was just a ton of fun. We got to know each other, we did a lot of things, had a hell a lot of successes and a lot of failures together, but just enjoy the experience and you'll figure it out with time. Phil: You weren't even trying to give yourself advice. You'll just be like I have to hand over. You have fun, more fun. Just have more fun. That's the number one thing you'd have. You will not be like, hey, go through this vertical early. You're just like, "Okay, go ahead and have fun." Is that correct? John: What advice would I give myself? It's just tough. You just got to figure that stuff out. You just be really active and go out there and try to find the answers. I don't think there's any one piece of advice that I could have received that would have changed anything particularly. It was just these series of events and a series of decisions that eventually get you to your outcome. Sometimes it's like running a business. You can make 50, 60 decisions a day and you'll make a lot of decisions and those very simple decisions. How you respond to an email, how you respond to a customer, which customer you prioritize, who you hire, which resumes you're looking at. All these things that you do every day and capital allocation as well. Where does the capital come from? Which department should I invest into and which should I pull back ? All those decisions that you do will actually eventually accumulate over time. It's not one decision, it's the accumulation of all these smaller little decisions. Phil: Yes, I think the biggest takeaway from how you approached the topic with yourself, it is like, there's not one thing that we can tell an entrepreneur. It's about doing. You have to go do it, and you're going to keep doing it. You're going to be building the experience through the decisions that you make, through the experiences that you go through. There's no knowledge that you could just unload even for yourself in one hour and that will make a huge difference. It is just about, there's all the learning that we can do. Of course, I know that you read a lot like me because you talk a lot about books through this podcast. In the end, there's no replacement for actually going and doing and spend the time. You're going to learn, you're going to get the experiences from the mistakes and from the things that you get right. That's my takeaway from your answer. John: Yes, and it goes back to what I think I said before too. If I guess I would say something it's like hey, just focus on owning a small pond. Don't be scared that your market's small. You don't have to build something that's going to serve the entire world. Just focus on an industry or a market or a application that's small. I think that's okay and you'll grow from there. Phil: Yes, that's an amazing advice for any early-stage founder because sometimes you're afraid of going too small, but I think most times people actually make the mistake of going too big. [laughs] It's not like they're going to make the mistake of going too small. What is some advice that you hear a lot in the SaaS space that you disagree with? John: The SaaS market, I think it's still growing. I think it's got a lot of room for growth. I think about long-term optimistic about software and SaaS, I think the biggest opportunity and challenge at the same time for the market is going to be labor. We've got some structural changes happening where the workforce participation rate, for example, is lowering. There's not going to be as many people as a percentage in the workforce, which means businesses are going to have to learn how to automate a lot, a lot of things they do. I saw that in manufacturing. I think businesses like ours and yours, and any business is going to have to figure out how to remove a lot of these repetitive mundane tasks that they do every day. Software will be able to help them do that. I think the opportunity's tremendous for all of us. That's what I hear and I think that's probably true. Phil: For sure. One thing that comes to mind now, as you're talking about the workforce getting smaller, especially if we go back to VC fund companies, one of the metrics that they are looking at is headcount. I think that's the wrong metric. You should be looking at efficiency. How efficient are we? How can we do more with automation because you're in the business of building software? Then we are saying that we need more and more and more and more and more people. You're going to need more and more and more people, but what can we do to optimize the ones that you have and to not lose the people that you have? I think maybe that's an insight to come to what you're saying if we start to think about how the workforce is just getting smaller. Less people are participating. John: Yes. I think that's a structural issue. We read about that right now, where companies are having a hard time finding people. I don't think that's going to change. I think it's always going to be a struggle to find qualified workers. They're going to turn to us software providers to help them automate more. Phil: Yes, I think that's definitely a huge opportunity for us software providers, and then there's a lot more SaaS to be built. That's where I think those interest experts should start thinking about what SaaS should I build for my industry because it's going to be great. We're getting to the end of the show and I have just two more questions for you. The first one, it's what books do you think every founder should read? John: Yes, there's two books, I'd read Zero To One, I think it's really important. Crossing the Chasm, it's very important. Help you learn how to verticalize yourself, or at least how to get through the market adoption lifecycle. Those are two great books to read. Phil: Are you currently excited about and motivated by your business? John: Yes, I'm really excited. I'm really motivated about my business and about just the industry as a whole and the opportunity in front of us. I think this is going to be a time of massive innovation. We're lucky our generation and even the younger generations are very lucky to be alive this time. I'm not sure that other generations will have seen this much amount of progress and change as we have seen. Think about all these things that are going to start getting automated. Even when I was a kid, I used to watch a show called Knight Rider. Have you heard of it? [laughter] John: That was [unintelligible 00:36:18]. I remember every Friday, this is what I would do. I'd come home and I couldn't wait till 7:30 at night because Knight Rider was on. It was about this car named K.I.T.T, and this guy would drive this black Trans Am. It could talk and it could drive itself. It was amazing for me to think that potentially, in odd 10 years, we'd be sitting in these autonomous vehicles. There's going to be lots and lots of opportunity like that coming our way. For us and our business, and we're really excited about these iterations that are happening with us. We started with a lot of contract and workflow automation for paper, but now we're really doing a lot more on financial services and helping people collect money quicker and easier. Phil: That's exciting for sure. Yes, I do believe we're very, very early days in the software space. There's a lot more for us to keep getting mature and I think in the next 10 years it's going to be amazing. I do see those big guys like Salesforce getting disrupted because there's going to be space for new people to come to play. They're going to have to do something if they want to stay alive. [laughs] John: Yes, for sure. Phil: Awesome. John, it was amazing to have you on the show. You've got a lot of great insights. Thanks for your time today. John: Yes, thank you, Phil. It was great talking to you. Speaker 1: SaaS Origin Stories is brought to you by DevSquad. To find out more about how we help entrepreneurs launch new products and help larger businesses plug in a ready-to-go development team, visit devsquad.com. Add us to your rotation by searching for SaaS Origin Stories in Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere else podcasts are found. Make sure to click follow so you don't miss any future episodes. Thanks for listening and remember, every SaaS hero has an origin story.