Ep. 5: Igniting SaaS in Canada With Jamie Petten
SaaS Marketing Insights, Episode 5: Jamie Petten, L-Spark and SaaS North
Four years ago Jamie Petten was lying on a beach in Jamaica pondering her next professional challenge having successfully launched a boutique hotel there. She now heads up marketing at Ottawa based accelerator L-Spark and is also one of the co-founders behind Canada’s leading software conference, SaaS North. What did she learn on her journey from hospitality to SaaS marketer?
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Episode 5 Transcript
Paul: On today’s show I have an interview with Jamie Petten, Co-founder at SaaS north and director of marketing at L-spark, I hope you enjoy it.
Today I’m very pleased to have Jamie Petten who’s director of marketing for L-Spark which is a incubator/accelerator?
Jamie: We are an accelerator, we work exclusively with B2B and enterprise SaaS companies across Canada to help them scale revenues from about $10K to $30K in MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) to 10x, to over 100k MRR in our 9 month program.
Paul: Wow and so how long has L-Spark been going? How long have you been with L-Spark?
Jamie: So I was part of the founding team. L-Spark was founded three years ago and so we are just in
the process of working with our fourth cohort with 36 companies in the portfolio.
Paul: Wow, so is it cohorts of twelve?
Jamie: Depends, each year we go through a heavy vetting and selection process where our business development team will reach out to the Canadian SaaS community and entrepreneurs that are interested in joining the accelerator program. We hold office hours with them and then we actually bring in a majority of the investment community across Canada. So lots of the VCs that you see here today at SaaS North, whether it’s BDC or Anova or Whitecap and we ask the men and women from those firms to make a selection on our behalf.
Then it’s double vetted and we’re ensured that we’re working with a high potential group of companies and then we’re off to the races for nine months helping them to grow revenues and then subsequently raising investment if all goes well.
Paul: If there are any SaaS founders/startups out there, what criteria other than the stage that they’re at? I don’t expected you to go through the whole criteria but is there any kind of shortcut tips or pointers you can give?
Jamie: Yeah, so I think just basics: Canadian and B2B or enterprise software, we don’t really play in the consumer SaaS space and then from stage perspective as long as the companies have a product in market and they have found product market fit.
We really come into play to provide insight and an aggressive mentorship model that will help the companies to create month over month growth in their sales process. So as long as there’s some early sales we can then help them to find repeatability.
Paul: So how long is the program?
Jamie: The program is nine months and so we’ll work with the companies in a concentrated, high touch way, over the course of the 9 months to help them get to their goals, typically we’ll bring in, we will always bring in a mentor, our mentors are seasoned execs from the tech and SaaS based across Canada who are
dedicated one to one for the whole nine months.
Yeah and so those companies have a unique opportunity to really embed that mentor into the company and get them to pull up their socks and do a bit of work on their behalf as well. They build a plan from the top down on where do they want to be and what do they want to change nine months from now. Then we work backwards to keep them accountable to the plan so we slap them around a little bit with weekly operational review meetings but it’s all for their benefit.
When you’re in a high growth scale company and you’ve brought in enough revenue to indicate that investment is a good idea. Founders then have to become accountable to a board and so we’re trying to get them in the cadence of accountability even in advance of bringing in any venture.
Paul: No that’s great and it’s so important because there’s no point having the best product in the world if you can’t find a way to run the business side of it properly.
So you haven’t always been in SaaS, have you? If we back up, what were you doing before you joined L-Spark?
Jamie: So three and a half years ago I was lying on a beach in Jamaica.
Paul: That sounds terrible.
Jamie: It was an awful job, i hated it, especially in the winter time. No so prior to L-Spark I spent four years launching and growing a boutique hotel in Negril, Jamaica and so to say that I was not in tech and SaaS is a gross understatement. It was a huge learning curve for me to understand the community and the players within the community. I came into my L-Spark role but at the same time my role encompassed everything from building out operations, marketing, sales and business development and even some investment with the business development, Bank of Canada, the National Bank of Jamaica and some angel investors and what I realized over the course of the time is SaaS is an underpinning to operating any healthy business.
So all things kind of came full circle for me.
Paul: So what persuaded you to leave your Jamaican Beach dream job and come to cold Ottawa?
Jamie: Yeah I think what I was so passionate about in the four years that I was in Jamaica is the experience of building a business from the ground up and there were key lessons that I learned along the way, once we got to the point of full occupancy and healthy sales, I just started to get really bored and I wanted to work with startups again and get my hands dirty in growing and building a new venture.
Paul: So you’re a marketer that’s always looking for a fresh challenge, you’ve been there and done that. The interesting thing about your situation is you’ve had 3 cohorts, 36 SaaS startups, you must have seen, just in that short time, you must have had some insights into the way that these companies can grow and grow quite quickly because that’s what you guys do.
Jamie: Yeah and I think landing back even to the time that I was in Jamaica, so the project itself was a six million dollar project but from a marketing perspective we did not have any marketing spend.
Paul: Nice, zero budget marketing.
Jamie: Yeah, zero budget marketing and the beauty of the property.
So we were really scrappy in the early days and there were some things that I learned along the way, just in terms of creating discoverability right at the onset so it’s not really enough just to pop up a landing page or pop up a website and build it and they will come. We recognized very early on that we needed to get out to third party sites and have our brand there. So we were very early in adopting TripAdvisor as that first point of contact and we built out the sales all from an inbound perspective. In order to do that the first thing we did was work on our customer experience and customer experience for us in Jamaica equaled brand.
So the more that our hotel attendees were enjoying the experience, the more that they were rating us higher on TripAdvisor. We ended up becoming the number one hotel in TripAdvisor in Jamaica, still to this day.
Paul: So is there something to learn from that maybe for SaaS companies that it’s about customer experiences, it’s about creating a brand with great values that looks after customers from the start?
Jamie: I think so, yeah and I think that we’ve recognized that with our portfolio companies. They found product market fit and they have a few early adopters for them to really concentrate on, those customers and their experience. Then subsequently you’re leveraging them as advocates within their industry to bring in new customers and that’s what we did in Jamaica and it worked really well.
What it help to do though is to also build up the credibility of our brand so that we could access channel. As a private property in that country it wasn’t easy for us to get on the online tour operators like Expedia and Booking.com in the early days and we were being vetted and vetted and it’s very similar for our class companies.
Paul: Nobody knows you, nobody cares.
Jamie: Yeah, nobody knows you, you’re trying to make sales any way you can just to keep the team fed. It’s all about the hustle. Exactly, but those channels, if you do it right are vetting you and so building that brand through the customer experience enabled us the credibility to get onto channel and once we got onto channel it was an instant influx, as many SaaS companies would say an influx of customers and at that point it’s all operations and ensuring you can keep the boat afloat.
Paul: So day to day, what does your role at L-Spark encompass? is it working with these startups or is it just spreading the good word about what you guys do?
Jamie: it’s been a combination of both, we ourselves have been building a brand and also building out our customer experience. So in our three years we’ve worked really closely with our startups to ensure success for them but we take a portfolio approach in terms of the companies that we work with and know that the stretch goals that we’re creating for them, not all of them will meet but a select few will.
So my role has encompassed everything from building of the L-Spark brand and the building of the SaaS community that we see here, to the founding of SaaS North conference.
Paul: We haven’t even talked about SaaS enough yet.
Jamie: One thing that I think we have learned at L-Spark, from a SaaS marketing perspective, we, in
building our community have created amazing events and subsequently as those events have created a lot of great content but to create content is not enough, distribution is everything.
So I think we’re really starting to solve that problem for ourselves by way of bringing in an excellent community manager who’s just like living and breathing online to get our content out there and now leveraging the community that we do have to share.
Paul: That’s great, that sounds like you’re really motoring and you know the reputation, I mean we’ve never met before but what I see of L-Spark online, it’s just really proactive and there’s a lot going on, it comes across really well, that’s great.
So shall we talk about SaaS North?
Jamie: Sure, this is where we are today.
Paul: Yeah so tell me the the backstory to SaaS North because it’s only 2 years old?
Jamie: Yeah, this is our second conference, so two and a half years ago, Leo, Pat and I, we might have been driving to a conference ourselves but we were talking about how we had just attended SaaStr and we were very impressed with the community that Jason was building in San Francisco, however the content and the delegation was extremely US centric. We didn’t see a lot of Canadian success stories making their way to the stage and there are some amazing ones as we’ve seen here at the conference.
So we started to talk about our own Canadian SaaS ecosystem and then many successes that span across the country whether it’s Hootsuite out in Vancouver or Real Matters now in Toronto, Shopify in Ottawa and so those are the big exits or privately listed companies but there’s a groundswell of startups and midsize companies that we engaged with and interact with all the time and what we thought was, how can we bring everybody together form our Canadian community to shine a light on what’s happening north of the border in our ecosystem. Also to educate the SaaS companies that are growing up now with tactical strategies through the content that is delivered through the conference.
There are a lot of startup conferences that focus on entrepreneurship and starting a company and being a founder, we wanted to go a layer deeper from that and really dig into digital marketing, inbound and outbound, customer success, product management so that these founders could arm their teams with these tactical strategies they would need to succeed here.
Paul: So there’s three of you in the car, you talk about this, decide it’s a good idea and then you just make it happen?
Jamie: Well no, not quite. We didn’t do it on our own at all. We started a steering committee so one of our lessons learned and what we encourage even our companies to do is create an advisory board and bring together the leaders in the industry to help shape the direction of where this should go and gain feedback of what they’re wanting to learn. So our initial steering committee came together two and a half years ago, we hit the ground running, really quickly actually, we had multiple speakers confirmed, sponsorship confirmed but what we didn’t have was any production expertise. So Cube Business Media came in as a partner of ours in our first year.
Paul: That’s a smart move, outsource the stuff you don’t know about.
Jamie: yeah, and what they’ve been able to do is create a quality experience for our community so that all of the details are left to them and the delegates can just enjoy meeting one another and learning from the speakers and so they’ve enabled us to really scale the conference.
Paul: So it’s Wednesday, it’s the first day today, the end of the first day, that’s why we look so tired, it’s nothing to do with the late night drinks. You’re just two years in so where do you see it going? you’re already planning next year, I think you’ve got the early bird tickets out?
Jamie: Yeah, I’m sure we do, Cube is way ahead of the curve on every front.
Paul: How do you see it developing?
Jamie: Well I think twofold, we of course want to grow the community and grow the audience here at SaaS North and grow the delegation. I think we’ve hit a good critical mass of the players in the Canadian SaaS ecosystem, how can we now bring in others from around the world on mass, to learn from our Canadian success stories and provide their feedback. So I think growing this community here in person as well as growing our online community, so I was mentioning before distribution is everything.
We have all of this amazing content, video content, blog content and Erin Blaskie our community manager is just in the process right now pulling all of that together into a publication: Voice of The North. So I’d really love to see our delegation live and breathe online through the content throughout the year.
So it’s not just an annual event but it’s an ongoing dialogue with everybody in the SaaS market in Canada, and beyond.
Paul: So, experienced, professional marketer, now with SaaS expertise, is there one thing that, or maybe a couple of thing that you do to make sure that you don’t burn out, that you balance your professional work and your life.
Jamie: It’s great question and a timely one. I personally recently had a health scare and I think it’s put a lot into perspective, everything’s fine but I think for me I’m getting better at just taking the time to take breaks, reflect and pause. As a founder in any startup or being a part of a startup team, the hustle and the grind, if you’re in the right company and you’re really enjoying it, it’s thrilling and we all live and breathe
growing companies. At the same time, I think it has really resonated with me now more than ever that we have to keep ourselves healthy and build ourselves up before we can put our best foot forward into the companies we’re building.
Paul: So, do you do yoga or run or?
Jamie: Hot yoga every once in a while. It just clears the head and sets me right for the day. In addition to that, just taking small breaks throughout the day to have a glass of water and think about how things are going.
I really do try, not for the full weekends but at least on a Sunday to just shut off and enjoy the time with my family and my friends.
Paul: I’ve put that question today to four or five founder/CEOs, it’s amazing and I think a testament to Canada really that the old view of working 18 hour days and crushing it, is being seen finally as unrealistic and people are trying to balance stuff out because we all know where that leads eventually.
Jamie: Yeah and i think business happens throughout the day, you know, 24 hours a day and now more then ever, in a cloud-based business environment it’s easy to continue working and the nine-to-five just is not a reality but being able to, as I said take breaks, take a step back anytime intermittently throughout the day, I think it’s really key and important to keeping a fresh and healthy mind.
Paul: Great, well it’s great to see you, great to meet you and I’m glad the health scare is over, thanks very much for putting up with us here at SaaS North.