Keeping it SaaSy: Juggling demand and capacity
For the third instalment of Keeping it SaaSy, we speak with Trav Heaven, founder of Duress. Duress is a SaaS startup that pushes the boundaries of what technology can do to keep people safer. They’ve built a safety platform and wearable safety devices that helps businesses keep their employees safe while at work.
Trav spoke with us about juggling demand and capacity, identifying when to build and grow and more – so if you’re keen to know a little more about Duress and Trav’s experience building a SaaS business, keep reading
Trav, tell us a bit about Duress
Duress started about five years ago. We were working with Victoria Police on a solution for a fast response to family and domestic violence calls. The big problem we were asked to solve was getting these calls to the top of the queue, and getting assistance sent out in a fast and discrete manner.
After we launched we began to be approached by businesses, particularly real estate. They had young, female real estate agents at viewings by themselves, and they were worried about their safety and security. So we expanded our platform to suit companies and organisations.
The market – in both Australia and globally – wants any frontline worker or anyone working with the public to be equipped with a safety device, so we saw a real opportunity here. We moved into wearable devices about three years ago. Now our platform powers the safety of teams in Department of Defence, Department of Justice, Coles, McDonalds, and many more.
Juggling demand and capacity is a struggle that often comes up in the startup world. If you don’t have this issue as part of your growth story, do you think that signals a problem?
Potentially, or you just haven’t found your market, and you never want to be in that situation either. When you look at us – safety – you know you’ve got a niche market, however trying to determine how big the market is can be tricky, especially in the early days. If demand is too much, then that also becomes a problem, especially if it escalates quickly. You have the problem of not enough resources, people and support to service the expanding market as well as you once did.
We’ve got a really good support system in place for our existing customers, which helps with that capacity issue – we have developed Duress to be intuitive and largely set-and-forget, and so customers don’t need to reach out to our support team as much. This means we can focus more on new technology. The exciting part is every time we onboard a new organisation, we learn not only how we can improve the product and our support, but about the other safety challenges they (and other companies in different industries) face that we don’t currently solve. There’s not that many people in the market providing solutions for those problems, so our bottleneck is there’s all these amazing opportunities to keep their team safe, but how do we prioritise these ideas and support them in a scalable way?
When there is a bottleneck, do you think it comes down to tech capability or capacity?
With tech, you can do anything – at least that’s what my developers keep telling me! In my experience, it’s not tech capacity or capability that brings about the bottleneck, it’s more about prioritising what to build and when. That is especially important for us, since we’re operating across different industries – what is mission critical and a great opportunity for one industry, may not be needed by another industry at all.
When you’re a startup and you’re growing, some of your flagship customers have some great ideas of what they would like to do. Early on, we learned the hard way and fell into that trap of only building what customers thought they wanted, instead of sitting back and thinking about the problem they needed solved and how we can solve it for all customers, rather than making it bespoke for each one.
The majority of the development we do now is based around the idea that everything is modular and everything is customisable. This means that an organisation can go into their settings on the platform and configure it exactly how they want. By doing it that way, we don’t need to spend a lot of time on bespoke development, but more importantly, we don’t spend as much time supporting the customer and explaining how they can fit in a partial solution. They can try it, test it, change some settings and when they find what fits them perfectly, then they can move forward.
Sales and service are closely linked but also can compete against each other. How do you identify what takes priority?
For us, service is always the priority. Sales will come, and do come if your product is amazing and people love it. It’s weird talking about customers loving a SaaS business, especially a safety SaaS business, but the love we get is for the functionality of the product, the way they feel when using it, and the support they get from us.
Service and support are a vital part of any business. For us, sales come from word of mouth, which reinforces that customers love the product and the service, and will recommend it to others. You can’t get a better sales channel than a trusted referral – we’re in the lucky position to have that, and a large part of that is because of how good our support and service is.
What are some of the main issues that can hold a business back?
A lot of things are based on funding. If you don’t have funding, you can’t get the right people and can’t build the best tech and you get stuck in a little loop of mediocrity.
Beyond that, knowing what you’re solving and that you have the right solution is a big one. Many businesses think they know what they’re solving, spend millions on building it and no one comes. If you’re an already established startup and have existing customers, meet with your customers as much as you can and get a really good understanding of what is the problem they’re trying to solve. You’re not trying to get a solution out of them – you want to understand the crux of the problem so you can come up with a solution that works for many.
Hiring the right people is another issue when you’re growing a business. It’s more than just the tech development and engineering – it’s important to have the right people across all areas of the business.
Startups are so much fun, because it is like you’re a little family. You don’t have to go through a whole triage to get an answer about something, you just go ask Steve or Mary directly, and the problem is solved.
As you start to grow out, you do need to bring more and more people on. You want people who are enthusiastic and passionate about the change that you’re making for your customers. Identifying those people can be really hard. Like any business, you use Seek ads and recruitment agencies and get recommendations for candidates, but it can be – and it is at the moment – tricky to find really good people. And when you’re scaling up quickly, you want to find a lot of really good people really quickly, which is always dangerous.
Are demand/capacity issues forecast into your strategy plan?
In terms of sales, we don’t really do much sales forecasting. We know we grow more users month on month. Because we’re SaaS and tech, so much of our growth relies on the product. If you’re trying to forecast based on a single product or feature, so that you’ll build feature X, which will then generate revenue of Y, you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket. We probably have eight or nine projects in development at the one time and the majority of those come from discussions with our customers. We identify what the problems are, have different variations on how we can solve it, develop our solution, do some beta testing with customers and if it makes it, it goes live and if it doesn’t, it gets replaced with another variation of the idea.
How do you decide what features to build, when?
If we look at some of the development work we’re currently doing, we’re finding that it’s not so much that every customer has the exact same problem, it’s different variations of a similar problem that eventually come to a common endpoint.
One example is our journeys update – businesses want to know that their employee arrives safely when going to a location. But all of the different factors that led to this include, what if the car breaks down, what if they go into a bushfire or flood zone, what if there’s an active shooter that prevents them from getting there or what if they have no mobile reception and you can’t track whether they got there?
So there’s all of these different problems, but if you bring them all together into one piece of functionality, it’ll tick all of the boxes and customers will get what they want, plus a whole bunch of other features that they may end up using as well.
How do you identify triggers or stressors to grow/hire?
We have regular catch ups with support, which is mainly where stress or the trigger comes from. We’ve done some really good things with the development team to ensure that they don’t feel too stretched or overworked, but with support, they can begin to get overwhelmed quickly.
We try to automate as much of their job as possible, so they become a manager of a support system, rather than a support person and that allows us to scale quickly. If you look at traditional support where they’re emailing, calling, instant messaging, it’s really only 1-1. Trying to onboard 5000 people to the system in one day, that’s just not going to work 1-1, even if you hire more people.
So we spent a lot of time running through the support team’s day – how much of their day is spent assisting new customers, existing customers, onboarding, training, level one or level two support and looking at how we can automate some of this. For instance, say there’s a problem with onboarding where 20% of people get stuck and are reaching out to support, we go to the design and UI team to figure out what we need to put in that spot to guide them through so they don’t need support. Rather than just throwing more people at the problem, we spend more time on solving the problem arising in the first place.
What’s your one tip to a startup founder around demand and capacity?
You want to be in the position where the demand is exceeding your capacity (but not too much!), as it shows you’re on the right track at the startup level. If you’re not achieving that organically, meet with your customers and ask them, what problems do you have that aren’t currently being solved? Let us come up with a solution”. That will make your product better and increase value for your customer. You’ll have better referrals, plus rely on support less because the customers have helped you design the functionality. Double down on understanding the problem you’re solving and understanding it using the knowledge from the customer who will be paying for that to be developed.
Keen to chat with Trav about issues around demand and capacity or the latest on what Duress is up to (he gave us a sneak peak, and it is cool)? You can get in touch with him on LinkedIn.