Be a solution provider first, a software company second and a SaaS company third

I found myself referencing this 4-part series by Lincoln Murphy on the challenges of enterprise SaaS several times recently:

Part 1 – calls to question some of the value of a pure-play SaaS model in an enterprise market.
Part 2 – talks about some of the unique selling challenges in the space.
Part 3 – separates on-demand delivery mechanism (SaaS) from on-demand licensing model (Utility) and calls both to question in some settings.
Part 4 – Provides a shorter summary of Parts 1+3 and briefly touches on the “unnecessary” requirement of absorbing all support costs.
Addendum/fallback – clarifies a few key points around the distinction between hybrid SaaS and hybrid licensing and source-code escrow.

Though these posts are more than 7 years old by now, the content still holds true. The reason for that, and why I thought it’s worthwhile to mention it in this blog, is because of the core of Lincoln’s arguments there’s a powerful kernel of truth that’s beautifully captured in the title of this blog post (taken from one of the posts in his series): “Be a solution provider first, a software company second and a SaaS company third”.

Generalizing it just a bit it reads as follows: In the end of the day, we (the company) exist to solve a problem for our customers. The way we go about solving it from a functional perspective (being a software company) and from a business perspective (using a SaaS business model) are means to an end. Sometimes the means that we choose can get in the way of solving the problem for our customers, and then they need to change. Often times companies forget this basic truth and stick to their functional/business approach at all costs, finding themselves in a situation where they’re trying to jam a square peg into a round hole and setting themselves up for failure.

So be a solution provider first 🙂

Be a solution provider first, a software company second and a SaaS company third

The Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on systems’ thinking recently, following a phenomenal talk by Jabe Bloom that I randomly stumbled upon. Jabe’s talk led me to reading Ackoff’s “Re-creating the Corporation” which turned out to be a great read. I’m still digesting both Jabe’s talk and Ackoff’s book and hope to blog about both in the near future.

Meanwhile, I also finished reading Donella Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems – A Primer”. Overall, I was a little underwhelmed with the book. It helped me further my understanding of the field but not by as much as I thought it would. But the one part of the book that I found to be particularly useful and insightful is succinctly summarized in this Wikipedia entry:

The Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System

As the name suggests,  Meadows identified 12 leverage points to intervene in a system in order to change its behavior. The short-hand version of them, in order of increasing effectiveness is listed below:

  1. Numbers
  2. Buffers
  3. Stock-and-Flow Structures
  4. Delays
  5. Balancing Feedback Loops
  6. Reinforcing Feedback Loops
  7. Information Flows
  8. Rules
  9. Self Organization
  10. Goals
  11. Paradigms
  12. Transcending Paradigms

It’s an incredibly powerful cheat-sheet for driving behavior change and I look forward to using it in my future endeavors in that space.

The Twelve Leverage Points to Intervene in a System

Maker’s schedule and the importance of scheduling nothing

This is a 2-for-1 post:

Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule (Paul Graham)

The Importance of Scheduling Nothing (Jeff Wiener)

I view Jeff’s post as a more nuanced take on Paul’s more dichotomous view of the world.

Paul makes a distinction between Maker’s schedule – uninterrupted large blocks of time needed for doing challenging creative work – and Manager’s schedule – consisting of 1-hour meeting blocks. He argues that people on Manager’s schedule who interact with people on Maker’s schedule need to be sensitive of that need and schedule meetings with them in a way that minimizes interruption to their schedule.

Jeff  makes the observations that managers need to do work that aligns better to a more subtle version of a maker’s schedule: “As an organization scales, the role of its leadership needs to evolve and scale along with it. I’ve seen this evolution take place along at least two continuum: from problem solving to coaching and from tactical execution to thinking strategically. What both of these transitions require is time, and lots of it. Endlessly scheduling meeting on top of meeting and your time to get these things right evaporates.”  Therefore, he intentionally schedules 30 to 90 mins blocks of “nothing” in his day used for catching his breath, processing what is going on around him and just thinking.

Personally, my need for more uninterrupted creative time grew very apparent recently. I know my most creative time is in the mornings and fortunately, since a large chunk of the company I work for is in a time zone 3 hours behind mine, most of my morning meetings are “self inflicted” (meetings I scheduled with other people). I’m going to try and make my mornings as meeting-free as possible and turn them into long “Maker’s schedule” blocks instead.


Maker’s schedule and the importance of scheduling nothing

The Topgrade Interview

I’ve learned about the Topgrade interview when I read:

Who: The A Method for Hiring

I’ve been using it ever since for every recruiting effort in which I’m the hiring manager.

The method has two distinct attributes that set it apart from typical hiring processes:

  1. The Scorecard: a quantitative blueprint describing the key areas that the person will be accountable for. For example: exceed an annual sales quota of $5M. It’s the quantitative focus on the nuanced difference that focuses on accountabilities rather than responsibilities that sets it apart for the typical job description.
  2. The Interview Day:  is structured around set of interviews each focusing on assessing a different accountability are and the candidate’s ability to meet the quantitative bar. But the “crown jewel” of interview day is the TopGrade interview. This is a longer, deeper interview that drills down on the most recent positions that the candidate held focusing on the her personal successes/failures, relationships with her boss/direct reports and reasons for taking on and leaving the job. The last part focuses on career aspirations in the short and long term.

As a hiring manager I find this process incredibly effective for the following reasons:

  • It enables me to lay out a clear game plan with the interview team, provide them with a succinct description of the role I’d like to candidate to fill, and make sure that I’ve got all the aspects of the role covered with focused assessments.
  • The “past positions” section in the Topgrade interview gives me a lot of insights to  whether the candidate can really claim credit for her accomplishments or just happened to be in the right time and in the right place. They way she perceives her relationships with her managers and direct reports helps me get a better sense of how effectively I’ll be able to manage her.
  • The “future position” section helps me get a better sense of the overall career trajectory fit, especially when I frame the position as a tour of duty, as well as identify the key points that I should emphasize if I decided to move forward and extend and offer to the candidate.

If you want to learn more about the Topgrade Interview, read the book I referenced or check out

The Topgrade Interview

Paid, Paid Vacation

Ran into this little gem by Bart Lorang (CEO of Full Contact):

Paid Vacation? That’s Not Cool. You Know What’s Cool? Paid, PAID Vacation

The gist: At Full Contact, Bart gives each employee that goes on a real vacation (must disconnect, can’t work on vacation) an extra $7,500 .

In the US, and especially in Tech, employees are often reluctant to go on vacation due to a combination of the hero syndrome and the costs of a nice vacation.

This is bad for them and bad for the company: burned out employees, natural creation of single point of failure, etc.

So Bart created a REAL incentive to go on a REAL vacation.

I’ve found the connection that he draws between an informal “no vacation” culture and the formation of single points of failure particularly interesting. The opposite connection, between a “full vacation” culture and other activities that improve the company (empowering direct reports to make more decisions, better code documentation, better knowledge mgmt, etc.) is even more powerful.

It’s a real problem with a substantial down-side, but also a missed up-side. I’m excited to see some creative innovation in addressing it by trying to get the incentive structure right.

What innovative solutions does your company use to address this issue?


Paid, Paid Vacation