I’m PJ Bouten, Co-Founder and former CEO of Showpad. I’d love to share my experience and lessons learned from scaling Showpad from zero to a global +€75M in ARR Business with this community! AMA

In 2011 I partnered with Louis and Peter to co-found Showpad, a revenue enablement platform for commercial teams. Leading Showpad as its CEO, I grew the company from 0 to +€75M in ARR, built a team of over 500 Showpadders (or good-natured ass-kickers as we call them), and raised + €150M from investors like Hummingbird, Dawn Capital, and Insight Venture Partners.

As a European start-up, we managed to build a substantial presence in the US, driven by our platform strategy. Today over 50% of our revenue comes from the US, and we have over 1.200 customers across the globe, most of which are big enterprise companies like Johnson & Johnson, BASF and Unilever. Early 2022 I transitioned to become the company’s Executive Chairman.

Besides building and leading Showpad I am an active angel investor, with investments in more than 30 software companies like Spendesk, Swan, Iter8, Growblocks, Silverfin and Deselect.

On the personal side, I am married to Liesbeth, father of 3 young kids and an avid Kitesurfer, and a competitive Mountainbike rider.

Building and scaling a global SaaS business is incredibly exciting and rewarding, yet at times it can be challenging and hard. Starting and growing a business is one of the most meaningful professional and personal journeys. Happy to share my experience (the good, the bad and the ugly) and talk about:

  • Internationalization and how to enter new markets
  • What I learned from making several acquisitions with Showpad.
  • Building and scaling your culture
  • Raising money and choosing the right investors
  • How to hire and retain great talent
  • How to grow as a leader and a person
  • How to scale your GTM and drive performance
  • Navigating the current environment both from an operational or financial perspective.
  • Importance of prioritizing health and well-being (of yourself and your employees)
  • What I look for when making angel investments

I’ll be answering questions on September 15th, between 4:30-06:00 PM CEST. Looking forward to it!

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This September 15th, we’re really looking forward to hosting Showpad’s co-founder and former CEO, Pieterjan (PJ) Bouten (@pjbouten). From doing CRM implementations across Europe as a consultant at Accenture (“then I got bored of wearing a suit and a tie to work every day”), to venturing into startups at a social network that preceded Facebook, to co-founding an app development studio, and then starting a category-shaping, SaaS business with Showpad, PJ has long abided by solving “massive problems,” “reiterating value at every customer touchpoint,” and most importantly, being people-first amidst the hardest of scaling challenges.

PJ Bouten’s brain-pickings :brain:

(Curated excerpts to give you a sense of some of PJ’s insights, beliefs, and realizations)

On international expansion and building two companies at once:

Our biggest challenge was that from the start, we started building out Showpad on two continents. That was very, very tough in the early days. That’s usually a challenge that most…Northern American SaaS companies only encounter or start solving when they’re at maybe 20-30m in ARR, as they look to open a London office or expand to Asia.

For Showpad, from the early days, Louis (my co-founder) moved to San Francisco. We started building out a team there. I started spending a lot of time there as well. We effectively had two companies within the company.

And early on needed to solve…and make sure we had a solid culture, that we had good communication processes in place. It probably pushed us to think on certain more strategic and harder-to-solve issues earlier on and it also triggered some earlier struggles maybe…but then it enabled us to scale quite faster.

Source: SaaStr | 2018

On an early, “near-death experience” with resellers:

When we started Showpad, we really believed that we could build a solution and then other agencies would resell us. And then they would be the sales engine of our growth.

After a year of doing that, we actually had several resellers that were selling Showpad, in a good way. We were making money. We also did some direct sales.

But the problem was that our product was changing so fast that the customers were unhappy because they weren’t serviced in the right way. As all of the communication and service ran through those resellers.

So on paper resellers and such indirect models look really great but you need have quite a mature product and really good communication and documentation and flows around that.

And we didn’t have that. So we had to change things and it cost us quite some money as we had to buy away all the contracts from those resellers.

That was a small, near-death experience in the early stages of our company.

Source: The SaaS Revolution Show | 2017

On the real issues with discounting:

So I think discounting for me is related to value. If you’re discounting too much either the customer doesn’t get the value or your sales reps aren’t able to articulate the value well enough.

Or you don’t have enough proof points to demonstrate the value. Maybe your pricing is just too high and you should rethink how you’re going to market.

Looking back at Showpad, I think, historically, in the early days, we discounted way too aggressively. Especially for bigger enterprise customers. And we did it just for the sake of winning the deal. And yes, in some cases, obviously because of the logo.

I would honestly ask that…some of my customers have come up to me after they were a customer for 1 or 2 years as we’ve developed a great relationship with some of the executives.

And the would say, ‘PJ, the way you guys went to market in 2014/15, you were cheap. If the price was double that and you’d have added a $100K in professional services, we still would have become a customer.’

It’s that balance that you need to find. And it’s not an easy thing. You learn it by going out there, selling your product, asking your customers for feedback, and as you develop some of these better relations with customers and get a better understanding of the market, you also get a better understanding of the value.

Source: SaaStr | 2018

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Hey @pjbouten,

So glad to be hosting you for this AMA!

I’ve always marvelled at the many parallels Showpad and Chargebee have shared, having our beginnings almost around the same time a decade ago, bootstrapping for the first couple of years, figuring international expansion way earlier than most folks had to, and more.

It’ll be great to learn about your perspectives on one of these threads. You’ve mentioned how Showpad shaped and grew with an emerging software category. So, in the early days, on the marketing side, how did you think about balancing immediate and long-run efforts? And what were some other hard-to-tackle difficulties of being in a new category?

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Hey @pjbouten,

Really looking forward to the session next month.

It’s been inspiring to follow the Showpad journey over the years. Much, much to learn from it. I think it’ll be really helpful for everyone in the community, especially given the current SaaS moment, to hear about how you navigated some really exacting times around the onset of the pandemic, having made the hardest decisions us founders ever make. What were some of the personal and organizational realizations you had in the process?

Thanks for doing this!

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