Startup Founder

SaaStr Annual Conference – Day Three

klipfolio - saastr annual confrence

SAN FRANCISCO – The last day of a conference can sometimes be a bit of an anti-climax. A few people leave early, while those who remain work to make those last connections or chase that last bit of information.

I spent most of my time chatting with other attendees, and went to a meeting in Mountain View that took a chunk out of my day.

Nevertheless, I came away from this last day with useful words of advice, both about my job as a CEO and about business in general.

1. No one is born a CEO; it’s learned.

Whether their company is large or small, every founder and CEO will question whether they are any good at what they do.

Venture capitalist Josh Stein, a partner at DFJ, made it clear in a talk that you can learn to do the job well.

The learning happens along a journey, and you can’t always see it, especially early on. In many cases, he says, the true ability to lead only becomes visible as your company, or your cause, grows.

Stein says there are a few characteristics good CEOs should aspire to learn:

  • They should learn to be magnets, to develop the ability to attract the best people, to attract capital and to attract customers.
  • They should learn to have self-awareness, confidence without ego, and passion.
  • They must learn to be honest always and build trust.
  • They must learn to be able to listen and empathize, and able to manage the aspirations and fears of their employees.

Practise these things, says Stein, and you will learn them. It’s about force of will - the desire to learn, practise and always improve. He urges aspiring leaders to get over fear of not being able to do something and just do it.

2. Being a good CEO is not about doing it all.

This is also from Stein’s talk.

He says the best leaders don’t play the hero card and try to do it all. Instead, they surround themselves with the best talent, they delegate, and they learn how to set a vision that guides the company in the right direction. They also are the first to seek help when they need it.

3. Be happy, hungry, honest and humble.

Every good company has values, and the best ones learn to express them simply and clearly.

I was struck the code of values at SendGrid of Boulder, Colorado, as expressed by the company’s CEO, Sameer Dholakia: “Happy, Hungry, Honest and Humble.”

Those are words to live by.

4. Assume positive intent in people.

That simple maxim comes from Josh McFarland, senior director of product at Twitter.

He says that if you assume people have positive intentions, it helps maintain the right kind of constructive dialogue as a company grows.

That’s it!

A few closing thoughts:

Huge congratulations to Jason Lemkin and his entire crew for bringing the SaaS world together over the past three days. To use one of his favourite words, it was EPIC!

To all of the fellow entrepreneurs, founders, and leaders: My best wishes. Build great products, spend your cash wisely, and make a difference.

And one last thought ... my own piece of advice to everyone. As mentioned, I had a midday meeting in Mountain View and arrived a touch early. I decided to go for a quick walk and found this beautiful view.

Klipfolio - startup founder mountain view

So, glance up from your iPhone and slow it down every now and then - it’s good for the soul.


Allan Wille is a co-founder of Klipfolio, and its president and CEO. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.

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