In February, Peter Coppinger and Teamwork.com launched the SaaS Network, an initiative to support to development and global expansion of Irish SaaS companies. I spoke with Peter about his motivations and vision for the network, as well as about other ways Teamwork.com is giving back to the community.
Where did you get the idea to start the SaaS Network?
The idea has been festering in my head for two years. Back then I had the opportunity to meet HubSpots CEO Brian Halligan in Dublin. I thought it was going to be a five-minute meet and greet, shake hands and goodbye, but instead, he wanted to learn about our business. He asked important questions and challenged me on how I ran my company. We ended up spending an hour and a half together, talking about the challenges we had with company culture. HubSpot had experienced similar issues, and he told me about how they had gone about fixing them. That conversation probably saved me a year of going down the wrong path. As a result, we started measuring the happiness of employees through a Net Promoter Score, we began paying for shared team lunches and other simple things that massively helped improve the culture. The meeting was a master class for me. Now I want to recreate that learning experience for companies here. One of the problems in Ireland is that SaaS businesses do not know each other to help one another. The SaaS Network solves that.
How does it work?
The network is built from C-level executives at SaaS companies. Each one agrees to make themselves available for a maximum of 2 hours a month for 1-on-1 meetings. The time, place and the manner of the meeting is up to the individuals to determine. Its far better than random networking events, where its pure luck whom you meet. At the SaaS Network, you pick the people you are going to speak with, and they become informal advisors. You need to change advisors every now and again, and this gives you the perfect opportunity to do that. Twice a year, we have a more formal get together of the whole network. Down the line, we dont insist that Teamwork drives all that forward. If any other companies want to get together and form a committee around this and expand it, were good with that too.
Are there any criteria to get in?
You must have a website for your products and existing customers. You have to either be a self-service SaaS or offer a demo for enterprise SaaS. People must be able to sign up for your product, put in their credit card details, and cancel at any time. The demo needs to clearly show your product, rather than just screenshots of it. All these criteria are in place because we want to avoid time-wasters – the people that talk a lot and never actually do anything.
Tell us what SaaS Network is not?
It’s not for promoting Teamwork.com. It’s not a place to pitch products and services to other members, or to look for investors or partners. It’s not a place to brag. It’s not for software services companies or companies unrelated to SaaS. We want to keep it very focused on SaaS product companies. For now, we won’t add too many rules to it. We just hope people use their common sense.
How can you make sure the advice offered is good and genuine? How do you replicate your experience with Brian at HubSpot?
That is part of the ethos of the network we are trying to build. We as founders need to get over the mindset that we are in competition. The real game is the rest of the world. And we need to help each other take a share of that market. We’re tiny, and we have to gather together, up our game, and compete. We can have many more SaaS companies in Ireland by taking responsibility to promote each other. In Ireland we can make that happen because of our culture of helping one another.
Do companies need to be indigenous Irish firms to be part of the network?
International companies with a presence here are welcome too. We’re also inviting C-level executives of large corporates who have offices here to join. They can be great advisors to our indigenous Irish software scene.
Stepping away from the SaaS Network, I hear your former office space is now serving as an incubator?
Yes! Years ago myself and my co-founder Daniel Mackey were caught in the consultancy trap. We had the product on the side, but we had to keep doing the consultancy to put food on the table. If we had been given a free office space with WiFi, free coffee and snacks and a little bit of mentorship once a month, we would have left our consultancy a lot earlier and gone on the road. We’d probably be two or three years ahead of where we are now. That’s why we have decided to offer our old office as an incubator, and we do not ask for anything in return from the companies working there.
Who is the incubator for?
The guys that are starting up. Aside from the office space, we have them present to our marketing, sales and engineering people who give them honest feedback and advice. We push them a bit and hold them responsible for accomplishing what they told us they would accomplish. Anyone doing SaaS in the country is welcome to come join it. We already have six companies in and have room for another 20 people in this space. We’re lucky to be at a size where we can afford to do all that. Teamwork.com is not just about making money for us as founders; we want to have fun and make a positive impact on the world in our small little way too. That’s why last year we decided to start giving 1% of our profits to good causes.
Sounds a bit like what Patagonia do. How does it work?
Each team gets an allocation of the profit to spend on anything they agree. They could spend it on cancer research, guide dogs, or the local GAA club – anything that is important to them. They could go work overseas on a mission. Last year one of the teams gave it to a group of artists that have been working to make Cork more beautiful, painting derelict buildings. We drive by one of the buildings they painted every day to work. It’s a small contribution to society, which also empowers our employees and makes them feel like decent people.
So all these things you do, they are all about giving back?
There is this principle that Jeff Bezos uses to “time-proof” his decisions, which I like. He judges each decision by how it would make him feel when he is 80 and on his deathbed. Would he feel proud? I want to be proud of my career but I also want to improve the world a little bit. And for that, I need to give back. Which goes back to the SaaS Network – I decided I wanted to help promote the software scene in Ireland because I firmly believe that Ireland needs to go all in on software.
Why do you believe that?
If you think about the assets we have going for us as a nation, there are not much. We’re on the edge of the continent with no land connection. However, Irish people are hard working, smart and English speaking. That is 4 million great assets, which can be applied globally. I firmly believe that should be in software production. We’ve proven that our software companies can compete with giants in Silicon Valley and all across the world. When we were starting up, we thought that customers in America would mind that we’re based in Ireland. But they love it. I firmly believe we can have a thousand more great software companies in Ireland. That will also help us wean off our reliance on international companies coming to Ireland.
What can we do to get there?
The government needs to wake up: they probably spent more on sheep farming last year than we did on promoting SaaS in Ireland. But its not up to them to solve everything. We need to self-organize, get off our bums, and stop moaning about things. For a long time, I was guilty of that. We need to build up the software sector, ourselves. We should help Ireland be known as the Silicon Valley of the world for SaaS. That’s the dream.