SaaStr Annual Conference: Panning for gold among the chaos

503E4618-2071-4284-8434-9DCE51B0A40EThere are a lot of parallels between the SaaStr Annual Conference and the California Gold Rush from the mid-19th century. They both happened in Northern California, attracted far more people than they could handle, the participants were mostly 20-something, shaggy-bearded men, there was a lot of debauchery, and finding value in the chaos was difficult.

Luckily, I arrived to the conference early and was able to pick up my badge without any wait at all. The unfortunate people who arrived at the prescribed time were faced with a line that looked like the fanboys and fangirls you might see queued up for a major Apple launch.

When it came time to attend the sessions I signed up for, I was greeted by apologetic contract SaaStr staff in front of over-filled hotel ballrooms. That was after I tried to make my way through the warren of rooms in the Union Square Hilton where the SaaStr team decided that it would be a good idea to re-brand the room names to something far cooler than the typical hotel conference room names. As a result, they were unable to benefit from the signage that already existed in the hotel.

On the second day, I decided that I should show up earlier for my sessions, but I realized that everyone had the same idea. Instead of getting a good seat, I was greeted by a frazzled staffer who apologized that after waiting in line for 20 minutes, I would not be able to attend the session because they were filled to capacity. She tried to soothe our anger by telling us that we could make it up by going to a great party that evening.

Speaking of parties, the conference had a large party with a performance from the English Beat. An odd choice because it was exactly the kind of band that someone like me might want to see – having come of age in the mid-1980s.  But most of those English Beat fans who are now in their 50s are not really interested in attending a “dance party” with a bunch of Millenials – who probably haven’t heard of the English Beat.

Was it all that bad? No. In the end, there were a few sessions that were extremely valuable to the serious SaaS entrepreneur. There was a fantastic session from Dave Kellog, CEO of Host Analytics. And a very strong, data-based session from Berlin-based investment firm Point Nine Capital.

Will I come back next year? Probably. I am an optimist who believes that people will learn from their experiences and improve the conference overall. But I will have a laser-focused plan to target the few sessions that matter while filling the rest of my calendar with other meetings in San Francisco while I’m in town.