How to grow a SaaS company – Podcast with Sergei Anikin

2020-08-18 - Tobias’ special guest in this podcast is Sergei Anikin, the CTO of Pipedrive. He engages him in a conversation on how to grow a SaaS company from a tech perspective. Pipedrive is a CRM designed for salespeople. Sergei has been in the software as a service space since 1996 when he got his first job as a developer. His software development jobs have always involved the internet. Before Pipedrive, he worked at Skype when it was owned by eBay and later when it was acquired by a private equity fund and then Microsoft.

One of the most interesting projects he was involved in at Skype was powering the very first video calling on Facebook. Right after Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype, he became part of the team that was developing Skype for the Windows 8 operating system.

“It was an interesting experience where you have to develop software for an operating system, which is not ready yet. So it's kinda changing beneath you,” he says.

All these experiences would prepare him for the position he took up at Pipedrive. He initially served as the VP of engineering, but his position has evolved and his responsibilities involve so much more than just engineering. In addition to leading the team that defines the company’s acquisition strategy, he also heads customer support, sales, and customer success.

Building successful SaaS companies

His journey has thrust him into different environments and company cultures, making him incredibly experienced SaaS companies in a manner that records noteworthy results.

His advice to business leaders seeking to build successful SaaS companies?

“If we are looking from the technology perspective, I think it's important to minimize the amount of time you're kind of spending on building nonessential features or functions. Instead of spending engineering time and resources building like user management or feature flag management or database scaling systems and so on, you should really focus only on the customer needs: solving them and validating if your solutions are actually kind of matching what customers need.”

Sergei says that the way they measure the success of a feature is by looking at its adoption. They rely on customer feedback to figure out whether or not the feature is being used. With the information, they can make decisions on how to better educate their customers about these features as well as how to simplify it enough for it to be more intuitive to use when people are using Pipedrive. 

Sergei advises SaaS startups to make customers the central focus of their business, constantly looking for opportunities to talk to them to better understand their problems and validate the company’s hypotheses.

“So there are two phases really just first validate that yes, there is a problem and what the problem exactly is. Once we have some ideas on how to solve this problem, we also validate that this solution is easy to understand and it actually covers most of the problems.”

Pipedrive’s secret sauce

Tobi asks Sergei about Pipedrive’s secret sauce - Pipedrive’s software DNA.

“I think the software DNA was really to make it simple to use for salespeople so that they do understand the software matches their thinking process,” he says.

“A lot of it has to do with two of our founders who were in sales before Pipedrive. The software was built based on their experience. I think they were just able to simplify and generalize the concepts of successful selling and sell processes. I mean, you can build any kind of software, but if you don't understand the kind of user mentality, you won't be successful.”

Tobias also asks Sergei about Piepedrive’s GDPR compliance, penetration testing, and the company’s approach to dealing with legacy. Sergei explains in detail their decision to not fight legacy, and instead embrace it. His customer-centric approach is infused in everything he does, including his attitude towards legacy systems.

“My approach is every engineering project should also bring some customer value. If there is no customer value, then we don't do it.”

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