This article is based on a presentation given by Iuliia at Women in SaaS Summit, 2022. Catch the full, unedited talk on demand, right here.

As someone who came from academia, rather than a SaaS background, I’m well aware of how people from different industries can bring new skills to the world of SaaS. Through my first-hand experiences, I’m going to demonstrate how this is possible.

More broadly, I’m going to show you how introducing new perspectives can spearhead fresh strategies in this burgeoning field.

In terms of customer service, I’ll be focusing on creating a collaborative relationship with users. Good customer service starts at the very beginning of the customer journey: with the onboarding process. The onboarding process needs to facilitate a constant feedback loop between you and the customer.

But a collaborative relationship in your customer-facing roles can only happen if you manage to establish a culture of collaboration within your org. Introducing fresh perspectives from diverse backgrounds is your route to this.

Here’s a breakdown of our main talking points:

A bit of background on myself

Before getting into SaaS, I was working in the field of education technology for more than 10 years. The project I was involved with was known as the ‘flipped classroom,’ which was focused on eliminating the lecturing part of academia and instead pioneering an interactive, activity-focused form of education.

I’ve always had a passion for more practical forms of education, and here I was working alongside students, designing online, interactive courses. This was heavily focused on encouraging user participation and trying to create enthusiasm for the product. This prepared me well for the early work I’d be doing at Marble.

People pointing at a laptop screen

Product usage and adoption

This was the crucial problem I was focusing on when I started at Marble: increasing product usage and product adoption.

There are more than half a million software companies out there, and in general, they are adopted only half the time. For their products, it’s even worse: the adoption rate sits at only 20%. I was focused specifically on increasing engagement with the product, and our team was focused on learning and onboarding.

Streamline the onboarding process

We were helping software companies to streamline the onboarding process for the 1000s of their users.

A smooth onboarding of users is so essential for SaaS companies. I don't need to tell you, that the competition out there is fierce, and a straightforward adoption process can really help to cut your churn rate down to size.

Every onboarding process is educational, and as with any form of education, the tools that we use need to be intuitive and user-friendly.  

This is just one of the crucial nuggets of knowledge that I took with me to the SaaS industry. Creating this clear line of communication between you and your customers is so important. The perspectives you can get from your customers can uncover strategies that you may have overlooked. The result of this is…

A cluster of interconnected electronic lights

An ecosystem of learning

The better users understand the product, the better users can be onboarded. And the more users use the product, the better users understand the business.

And it really helps if the education starts before they even visit your website. It all starts with learning, and learning is a constant process in SaaS companies.

And I’m not just talking about your customers, you need to train your employees to think of onboarding as a training process. The SaaS company is a whole ecosystem where every employee and customer should be educated and onboarded to maintain that ecosystem.

Not just in terms of what the product does, but in regards to the importance of sales reps and customer service professionals continuously communicating with customers.  

I’ve now cultivated a love for designing the product, for designing a product from the ground up. It was this joy in cultivating products that made me want to leave academia. But I carried the passion for cultivating people with me.

This was the first transferable skill that I took with me. But there are many more, and I’d like to tell you about them here. 👇

My key learnings

1. Scaling is reaching out

This is especially true if you’re building a company from a startup. Although my academic background wasn’t as concerned with scaling in the same way, it was concerned with helping people along in the adoption process.

And scaling a company is all about reaching out to users and making sure they understand how to use your product.

Man standing on a mountain

2. We’re on a discovery journey

This means not necessarily trying to automate everything right off the bat. You have to form creative approaches for how you can work together. And most importantly, how you can better meet customer needs.

Discovery, of course, encompasses research. For a SaaS company, you need to conduct rigorous research into your own needs and the needs of customers.

3. It’s driven by the customer

That means listening to what the customers say. In my previous background, I was working constantly with students online. In that sense, students were the customers of our education and university. The problem was that many processes in the university weren't changeable.

But working in SaaS, you need to continuously adjust to the customers’ needs. Make sure you’re always listening.

A lotus flower on water

4. Mental health is essential

Running a SaaS company is not about doing it short and fast. It’s all about saving resources, recovering, recalibrating, and most importantly, trying to avoid burnout in any form. When I was working in university, we were working on short projects. It was all a big sprint.

When building a SaaS company or product, it's like putting all the cogs together in a well-oiled machine. You can’t expect it to all come together in two to three months. You’re going to be concerned with scaling, yes, and that comes with a lot of pressure.

But scaling something effectively doesn’t mean just scaling blindly. You have to be able to build strategically. And that often requires slowing down, reflecting, recalibrating, and moving forward. Most importantly, it’s about avoiding that burnout which stops you from scaling.

5. ‘No’ doesn’t mean you’re wrong

The fact is, the word ‘no’ is the launch base for all learning and development. It doesn’t mean you're doing something wrong.

In some other environment, ‘no’ can mean that you’re not going to be working on a  project anymore. But with building a SaaS company, it’s about continuously reassessing the landscape and making decisions accordingly.

These failures are a huge opportunity for growth and development.

6. Improvements and change needs to be constant

This means reassessing and reconsidering what you’re doing every two, or three months. You need to reconsider the following factors:

  • What are your business goals? Are they the same?
  • How are your goals connected with the responsibilities you have?
  • How can you accommodate your business goals in your professional workload?
  • Are you integrating learning and development into these goals?

Constant improvements and changes are essential for building a SaaS business or technology business. Technology companies are developing very fast right now, but to maintain that growth, education, development and learning, we need to reach out widely and pull in fresh perspectives from the outside.

A stack of multi-colored books

To wrap up: it’s all about education

Even though I’ve switched careers, this is the common thread running through it: education and development. My passion is not just for learning, but also for collaborative education.

Building a smooth onboarding process isn’t about telling customers what to do. If you did that, your customers won’t feel seen and heard and acknowledged. I came from academia, but real learning isn’t about lecturing to people, it’s about tailoring customer education to customer needs.

Finally, we’re talking about building a culture of education. A culture of education can only happen if we have diverse perspectives and skills. This is the ultimate benefit of hiring from non-SaaS backgrounds.

The tech field is so exciting because of the constant sense of discovery. Discovery comes from breaking the mold, from introducing new modes of thinking

My non-SaaS background has informed and complimented my SaaS journey for the better, let’s open the door for others, and broaden our scope of skills.