Dublin is where SaaStock started out as a regional event and found itself becoming a global conference. Founder Alex Theuma tells John Kennedy how it all began.
Alex Theuma is in the back of an Uber as we chat and you get the sense that SaaStock – a three-day gathering in Dublin’s between 14 and 16 October of 4,000 software industry professionals – occurred as a series of fortunate accidents.
More than 100 speakers including venture capitalists and leaders from companies like Stripe, Intercom and SurveyMonkey which are transforming the business world as we know it, will descend on Dublin to describe the future of business technology.
“SaaS is powering every business from an SMB to an enterprise”
The event was devised in London but has been held every year in Dublin since the first one in 2016 and has spawned a global events business with events in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Australia. Theuma is adamant that the flagship event will remain in Dublin.
There is a saying in the tech business that software will eat the world and when you consider the multitude of apps and volumes of code that are now intrinsic parts of our personal and professional lives, software has already devoured our world.
Around five years ago Theuma, originally a sales professional, found himself working in the area of cloud computing and genuine curiosity around the area of software-as-a-service (SaaS)– web-hosted software that gave rise to giants like CRM player Salesforce – led to him establishing a blog called SaaScribe.
“The idea initially was to create a magazine for the SaaS industry. I think with my naiveite, I didn’t know enough about the industry at the time and I wasn’t a writer, I wasn’t an editor, but I just felt that the market was at a point where there was probably a gap in the market for something like that.”
In pod we trust
Theuma had the self-awareness to realise that his knowledge of SaaS alone wasn’t enough to make him a thought-leader. So instead, he decided to turn SaaScribe into a community-driven publication where experts on areas like customer success and sales and marketing would contribute content.
“I thought ‘okay, let’s supplement that with a podcast’.” His timing was sublime. The podcast went live just before the resurgence of podcasting was driven by the success of shows like Serial brought the genre back into the public limelight.
Very quickly the podcast started to attract guests like leading venture capitalists and executives from companies like HubSpot.
“We had an audience and I thought again, ‘let’s supplement this by doing meetups’ and so I started a London SaaS meetup and over a period of months we managed to get eight meetups happening across London and Dublin and before I knew it we had a community.
“So we realised that very quickly we managed to create a grassroots movement and from talking to the audience it was clear that there was a need for a SaaS conference. So the idea really resonated, the timing was right – SaaS was really growing – everybody in the community was asking for this.”
Before Theuma had even begun pulling together a conference, SaaS analytics company ChartMogul founder Nick Franklin, whom he had previously met at the Web Summit in Dublin, offered to be a gold sponsor. “He took a pretty big bet, because it was a good bit of money and this was something that was pretty unproven. I hadn’t done it before, I had never run a conference before. We hadn’t even a website at that point and the conference was 12 months away.”
Very quickly a second gold sponsor was on board and Theuma and his team got to work preparing to create a conference that would initially host 700 people. What he wasn’t expecting, however, was how international the audience would be, with SaaS entrepreneurs and investors from 34 countries intent on coming to Dublin.
“I thought it would be a European conference for a European community. But it became global from the beginning because people started buying tickets from Sydney, New Zealand, Brazil and India.”
Theuma originally planned to locate the conference in London because it was his home town and the advice he received was that from a logistical point of view it made sense. But as he priced venues he also realised that as well as being expensive, London was too big.
“After the conference finishes people can get lost in the city and then all they’ll do is go shopping. And Dublin would enable me to retain the vibe in the evening and keep that serendipity where people would bump into each other.
“There was also a huge cluster of SaaS companies and multinationals in Dublin. So again, I was thinking strategically and if I wanted to get someone like Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, or Ryan Smith from Qualtrics, the head office for Europe is there, so they could combine a visit to the office with visiting customers. And there were plenty of these kinds of businesses like New Relic also based there.”
Dublin: City of the clouds
Crucially, Dublin worked out at a fifth of what he would have had to spend to do the event in London.
“Dublin ticked all the right boxes. And [in the tech world] everybody loves coming to Dublin.
“And really it was down to the restaurants and just the vibe in the evening after the conference finishes.”
Now onto the fourth iteration of SaaStock in Dublin, the company that Theuma founded is now a global enterprise with events happening all over the world. He intends to keep the main, signature conference in Dublin while growing international events at their own pace.
“Our event in Asia had 200 people, our San Francisco event is going to over 400 people. When we started we were a team of about two and a half people and now we have a team of 22 and we are finding every market is very different. The brand awareness isn’t quite there yet. So we have to do a lot of education and change to adapt to these markets.
“Dublin will remain the flagship and that will remain global while these other conferences will remain regional.”
Looking to the future of the SaaS industry, Theuma describes himself as “super bullish” for its future.
“SaaS has been around for more than 20 years with companies like Salesforce. But really for me, it didn’t really get onto my radar until 2012 and I only started blogging about it in 2015 and that was when platforms like Slack were only in their infancy. Now there are thousands of companies that are powered by Slack and many organisations are using 30, 40 or 50 SaaS applications typically.
“SaaS is powering every business from an SMB to an enterprise.”
The number of companies driving SaaS has grown from dozens 20 years ago to thousands today, and Theuma doesn’t see the number of SaaS-based start-ups that are emerging drying up any time soon.
For Theuma, however, timing has been everything when it came to starting a blog, then a podcast and a regional conference that became a global conference based in Dublin.
“Luckily enough, with the timing and all the hard work, it all kind of worked out.”
Written by John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 3 October, 2019