SaaS North 2016: Conference Wrap

This post was originally published on Voice of the North.

I recently had the chance to catch up with Raymond Luk, Founder and CEO of Hockeystick. We chatted about his experience exhibiting and pitching at the inaugural SaaS North conference. Plus, I got his unique take on the rise of the SaaS industry.

Hockeystick SaaS North
Lucy Screnci: Can you tell me more about Hockeystick?
Raymond Luk: [Hockeystick] is something we set out to do a couple of years ago. We’ve been building a data platform for private companies to use and share selected information with the market.

The private market in many ways dwarfs the public market, but it’s not regulated in the same way. There’s no requirement for private companies to release their financial statements publicly, even though people are really interested in investing, whether it’s an angel investor, or a VC or private equity firm.

Everyone needs to do the heavy lifting to get their own data, from research to analysis to portfolio management. We realized that there’s a huge gap that exists.

My team works on the other side to sell tools that private companies and investors, like private equity firms, use in order to do research, manage deal flow and investments, as well as portfolio management and data collection.

All of that goes back into this big pipe called Hockeystick, which will eventually be more open for people to use.

LS: What made you recognize that gap?
RL: I’m both an investor and an entrepreneur. I’ve been part of many angel groups in Canada, and I also ran a fund called Year One Labs, where we were fortunate that our first investment in the fund generated more than a 25x return.

As part of the experience of being a venture investor and an angel, it really hit home that I was being asked to write cheques to companies and I had no data to back it up. I started to think, “there’s got to be better tools than Dropbox or Excel,” and it turns out that there weren’t any better tools, that’s why I started Hockeystick.

I’ve got a background in the last 20 years in software and as a consultant, so I was able to wear my operator hat, which has allowed me to start it and get it off the ground.

LS: Having been in the software industry for many years, what’s your take on the advent of SaaS?
RL: What’s funny is that, as a term, “SaaS” is something that’s universally accepted, but that wasn’t always the case.

Back in the day, the idea of renting software as service was revolutionary because people wanted on-premise software. Today, you don’t have to say, “by the way, we are a SaaS company” — pretty much everyone assumes that you are.

As we saw at SaaS North, there isn’t just one type of SaaS company and there isn’t just one way that SaaS companies grow. I think we’re seeing a lot of types of business models and that’s the sign of a healthy ecosystem.

LS: I’m really glad you mentioned that there are so many different models and so many different ways people have ‘done SaaS’. Was that sort of a reason for you to attend SaaS North?
RL: I find that getting outside the office is important and we wanted to see how other companies are set up and learn what other people are doing.

It’s always good to make sure that you’re not missing something, like some sort of best practice that somebody else knows that you should know.

LS: Would you say that was the main motivation for attending?
RL: I think any entrepreneur will tell you, anytime I go to a conference, if I can close sales, meet new customers, and develop new customer relationships, that’s always my number one. We’re very focused on growth.

Secondly, I find I learn just as much from my peers. I like sitting down with other founders. I had a lot of conversations, “behind closed doors,” of “forget all the PR, forget what you say on social media, here is what’s actually working and what’s not working.”

LS: Overall, in terms of the pitch opportunity, did you get everything you wanted out of the conference?
RL: Yeah, we did. I thought that the pitch was a lot of fun. There were a lot of people there and we got some good feedback.

I felt that it was a good mix of people who later on came up to us and came by our booth because they were really interested in what Hockeystick was doing. It was a little five-minute window that ended up being extremely high value for us.

The pitch was a great way to broadcast [the company] and the booth allowed us to do demos, show off our data platform and have in-depth conversations.

LS: What advice would you give a company that’s on the pitching stage next year?
In every pitch, you can’t do everything — entrepreneurs are usually tempted to squeeze everything into their pitches.

I look at it as trying to tell a story. The goal of the pitch is to have a really compelling story that gets people to come and talk to you afterwards.

For example, we didn’t cover financial projections or revenue in our slides at all. We told a story of this is how we see the world, here’s the problem we’re trying to solve, here’s some examples of how customers are able to solve that problem, and here’s a little bit about the future.

If you’re really focused on telling a compelling story, then people will be interested enough to talk to you.

LS: Anything else you want to add?
I’m looking forward to next year. The only other tech conference that I consistently go to that’s great in Canada is Startup Festival in Montreal, which is a very different festival, and they’re doing a great job.

I think it’s amazing that we’ve got the beginning of another really successful tech conference that’s much needed, and I’m really excited to be there in  2017.