Anatomy of a Healthy SaaS Business

We recently announced that Evernote is cash flow positive and in control of our financial destiny, which is a huge milestone in the evolution of the company. Since that news broke, we have received a humbling outpouring of support from our global community, including questions about what lessons we’ve learned along the way. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past year and a half thinking about what makes a company healthy, what makes it grow, and what makes it valuable. In a nutshell, here is what makes the Evernote elephant — or any company that wants to succeed in today’s environment — run.

Reviewing your org from head to toe

Our best advice is to think of your organization like a living body: they both have degrees of health and both function best when all facets are in peak working condition. At Evernote, we conduct functional health check-ins throughout the company each month to ensure that everything is working together for maximum impact. These check-ups are vital for maintaining the company’s strength and overall fitness.

SaaS Anatomy like a Human Body

  1. Heart: Your core values are your company’s heart. These intrinsic beliefs, derived directly from your company’s purpose, are why you’re passionate about what you do and why you know it’s important. For us, the stories about what users were accomplishing with Evernote — from lab research to building businesses to making music — form our “why.” People go to Netflix to be entertained; they go to Facebook to connect; they come to Evernote to achieve. Why do users come to your product? Why do employees come to your organization? Answer those and everything else starts to become clear.
  2. Brain: The company’s strategy must marry technical innovation with user insight to turn your unique concept or expertise into a sustainable business. We know that knowledge workers waste 2.5 hours per day simply searching for things according to IDC research. Our insight was that there are simply too many places to search: information is scattered across email, chat, files, desktop, etc. Combined with technical advancements that make it possible to organize and find any type of document, we can make our users 25%+ more productive by acting as a repository for their ideas regardless of form. It’s not just about what your org can do; it’s about what you can do differently or better than anyone else.
  3. Lungs: The product must breathe life into the experiences that the brain conceives. We promised our users we would focus on the core of what Evernote was meant to do, then we aligned our product managers to better focus on the core experiences of Evernote: collecting, editing and searching, as well as platforms like Android and iOS. This approach will allow us to release common experiences across platforms and make the process of capture and recall even more seamless. Is your org putting the user’s experience first?
  4. Arms & Hands: Building a great product is meaningless if nobody finds it. Marketing and sales organizations must reach customers and feed the rest of the body to keep it growing. We wanted to build a personal relationship with every one of our users, even though they were in more than 200 countries around the world. To do so, we realigned our marketing and go-to-market teams, built a global community program, and created a communication mechanism in the product to guide users to the parts of Evernote most valuable to them.
  5. Stomach: That “food” — the dollars from customers who have discovered value in a product and are motivated to pay for it — goes to finance, which consumes the calories (apologies to any financial professionals insulted by this analogy; we mean it in the best way). At Evernote, we stopped eating the empty calories that come from attractive but useless vanity metrics and started thinking about the real numbers that impact our long term health. We put ourselves on a responsible diet, guided by our renewed vision and strategy, that still left room for Monday morning pastries (a real thing at Evernote HQ).
  6. Legs: When all is said and done, a SaaS business can only go as fast as its engineering team can run, so we made a series of architectural, process, and organizational changes to let us build better code faster. Learning from their success, we rolled out Agile methodologies to other teams, from marketing to legal. This allows us to align our work company-wide and put a greater focus on producing high quality product, new innovation, and improved user experiences.

When you put all these pieces together, you have the most important thing: the people. We’ve added 127 new Evernoters in the last twelve months and will grow our workforce by double digits again this year, with the confidence that we’re adding the right talent to the right parts of the organization at the right time. With any “get well” program, you’re going to be sore from engaging new muscles at the beginning and there are going to be times where you just don’t want to exercise. When that feeling strikes, just keep going. Use your momentum. Stampeding elephants create enormous impact and we are ready to run.

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