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Building Success: Insights from 7 Leading SaaS Companies SaaS businesses feature all sorts of advantages and unique hurdles. What separates the winners form the losers?

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Software as a Service (SaaS) is vital to the way that countless modern businesses operate. In fact, predictions indicate that by 2020, 73 percent of enterprises will run almost entirely on SaaS. So, what is SaaS? It's a business model in which providers host software online and customers pay to access it. The software is accessed on a subscription basis using cloud computing. Customers benefit from device and location independence, fast access to functionality, lower costs and ease of use. SaaS comes in many forms, including customer Relationship Management (CRM); email and collaboration services; sales management; document management; and editing and creation software.

The SaaS industry's prevalence has been skyrocketing since the 1960s, and behind this impressive success lies the ongoing hard work of a dazzling range of companies, from Google to Zendesk. Game-changers like this boast diverse cultures, strategies and values that have contributed to their achievements. This article is going to examine seven SaaS trailblazers and investigate what gives them that unique edge.

Related: How SaaS Is Changing the Way We Work


Slack is a cloud-based instant messaging platform, and so much more. With the ability to send and store files, make video calls and create organized work channels, this SaaS company has revolutionized many a startup. Their secret to success? Fiendishly good design. Many users find themselves addicted to Slack, genuinely enjoying using the software on a daily basis. Instead of operating as a traditional enterprise chat tool, Slack aims to be a robot sidekick, helping customers through their day. And it works. Slack has more than 10 million users and only continues to grow. The secret to success is all about the product; create a well-designed software, and you'll have a service that people truly want to pay for.


Google offers 137 different SaaS products. This ranges from productivity software like Google Docs to advertising tools such as Google Adwords. With an estimated net worth of $300 billion, they're certainly a source worth taking notes from. Google's standout quality is innovation. This is a key element of the company's mission. For many people, a world without autocomplete search results, targeted advertising and ranked content is unimaginable. However, these innovations were first pioneered by Google. Innovation means staying ahead of the curve, taking risks and thinking in ways that aren't just out of the box, but straight out of the future.


This CRM tool offers users the ability to create and track tickets while also managing billing, shipping and customer data. For Zendesk, creativity is key when it comes to business achievement. They don't just expect creativity from their marketing teams, either. Engineers are seen as builders, creators and free thinkers. Zendesk aims to give them the freedom to work on what they think is best. This has allowed the engineers to create a huge variety of unprecedented products and apps for clients, ranging from agents to managers and end customers.


Shopify is an ecommerce solution company that allows users to start, grow and manage their own online store. Everything from products and inventory to payment and shipping can be managed via Shopify's software. They're the third-most visited website in the world.

An element of Shopify's business that works incredibly well is its multi-channel content. This ensures Shopify sites receive millions of views each month. Dominating in your chosen area of expertise means creating deliverables and resources that generate real engagement. This leads to a high-ranking site on Google. Real, accessible, relevant content for your customers is key.


Offering access to superior survey design and management, SurveyMonkey is likely behind a significant number of any surveys you've taken recently. SurveyMonkey experiences 17 percent annual revenue growth and works on a freemium business model.

Former SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg offered a variety of tips for success. Most striking is that a company absolutely must have vision. It's vital to have a roadmap of your strategy and mission. He stated, "Figure out why you're doing what you're doing and why it's important, and then sell everyone on that deep belief." Outstanding business achievements are based on planned actions and clear vision.


Microsoft has remained ahead of the curve by innovating and moving its desktop productivity suites to the cloud. Their Office 365 package is accessible as a service online and by download via online subscription. The Microsoft SaaS business is hugely successful, growing at around 45 percent a year.

Adapting to change in novel ways is a key ingredient to Microsoft's success. Faced with competitors like Apple, Microsoft made its products and service offerings available on their own competitors's devices. Instead of trying to dominate one market, Microsoft ensured that it had a steady foothold in multiple. Sometimes the smartest strategy is not the most obvious one.


Adobe was not always a SaaS provider. A traditional software retailer, they recognized that the rapidly transforming software landscape required them to change in order to stay relevant. So, the company transformed in 2012. Adobe has now migrated to subscription-based SaaS plans that allow users to access their services via Adobe Creative Cloud. What is Adobe's key ingredient for success? Conducting data-driven ROI analysis in every vertical, rationalizing paths to market and strategy.

Related: 7 Rising SaaS Startups Delivering Stellar Content

Overall, success is the product of intelligent leadership, skillful teams and solid vision. There's much to learn from the SaaS industry. Keeping a close eye on the companies at the top of the pile will help any SaaS startup evolve with the ever-shifting landscape.

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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