Learnings from the latest SaaS IPO – BackBlaze

BackBlaze is a software company that is about to go public. Below are some of the highlights and learnings from their prospectus.

What they do. “We are a leading storage cloud platform, providing businesses and consumers cloud services to store, use, and protect their data in an easy and affordable manner. By substantially reducing the complexity and frustration of storing, using, and protecting data, we empower customers to focus on their core business operations.”

Consumer and SMB focus. There are “over 480,000 customers as of June 30, 2021. These customers use our Storage Cloud platform across more than 175 countries to grow and protect their business data on our approximately 2 exabytes, or 2 trillion megabytes, of data storage under management. Our solutions are designed for individuals and businesses of all sizes and across all industries but have a particularly strong appeal to mid-market organizations (which we define as organizations with 10 to 999 employees).”

Transparency with customers drives trust. “Transparency is more than a value for us, it’s our default approach. We release quarterly hard drive reports detailing the performance of each serial number and brand of the nearly 200,000 drives in our datacenter. We shared exactly how we store customer data redundantly, and how we do it inexpensively. We shared the source code algorithms used to encode and replicate our customer data to keep it safe. When we face problems, like we did during a 2010 power outage at a datacenter, we openly share what went wrong and how we will do better in the future. When there are problems with our software, we share what went wrong and the steps being taken to fix it, like in 2016 when a bug in a different company’s software caused problems with the Backblaze client if both pieces of software ran on the same customer laptop. This openness has been met with customer appreciation and loyalty.”

Incredible story. “Early on, we grew our team by hiring co-workers from previous companies who we trusted with what we consider to be our lives and livelihood — our customers’ data. The first two after the five original founders deserve special mention as demi-founders: Damon Uyeda and Nilay Patel. Most of us went entirely without salary for more than a year in order to spend all of Backblaze’s resources building products our customers would love. In the spirit of that original bond, we formed a salary tontine where, until the public offering is finalized, a core group of the original founders and some other very early employees agreed to make the same salary. This solidarity helped us build and sustain our culture through the first 14 years of our evolution.

A great place to work, with dogs. “Of the first 100 employees, more than half worked with us at previous companies, which speaks to our reputation, as do our Glassdoor ratings — 4.9/5.0 stars, 100% CEO Approval, and 100% Recommend to a Friend as of December 31, 2020. To attract and retain such a team, we provide a warm, friendly office environment where families and well-behaved dogs are welcome.”

All employees own stock. “Backblaze is employee owned. We grant stock options to every employee so that all employees share in our success.”

The marketing cache of an IPO is huge. “an IPO is a branding event — a coming of age party. It marks the end of the startup period and the beginning of an era where we are a trusted, mature company without the “startup” qualifier.”

Culture of diversity and debate. “Our founding team is a diverse group of open-minded people born in four different countries, practicing at least five different religions, bound together by mutual respect and the common belief in making excellent products. We embrace what each individual brings to the business; diversity is one of our strengths. Leveraging this strength means discussing our differences in an open dialog — Backblaze is not afraid of diverging opinions. The free exchange of ideas is a strength, not a weakness.”

Extremely cash efficient. “Our operations have historically been efficient with limited outside investment. Prior to issuing $10.0 million of convertible notes in a private financing round in August 2021, we had raised less than $3.0 million in outside equity since our founding in 2007. We decided to create Backblaze differently, and with essentially no venture capital funding.”

They keep pricing simple. “Our pricing is simple and straightforward, with fees and terms that are shared transparently on our website. The chart below is a summary of the primary solutions and pricing options we offer. Our subscription arrangements range in duration from one month to 24 months, for which we bill our customers up front for the entire period. Our consumption-based arrangements do not have a contractual term and are billed monthly in arrears.”

They grow with the customer and via product upsell. “We provide simple pricing for usage of our cloud services and increase revenue per customer through our customers’ natural data growth or employee growth. Additionally, we provide customers with additional value through cross-sell, upsell, and use case expansion that result in additional revenue per customer.”

Freemium is the gateway. “For prospective customers interested in B2 Cloud Storage, we offer a free tier and a simple, intuitive sign-up process, allowing them to quickly on-board and start using our solutions. Once prospective customers grow beyond the free storage limit, they have the flexibility to only pay for what they need and pay as they go, without any lock-in or long-term commitments. This is delivered via a consumption-based model, and we charge a fixed price per month per gigabyte of data stored on our platform. For prospective customers interested in Computer Backup, we offer a free 15-day trial and automatically start to back up all their files securely to our Storage Cloud.”

The selling motion is self-serve. “We have a highly efficient go-to-market model that is built on a self-serve selling motion. Prospective customers find us through a variety of channels including our website, partners, and brand advocates. Our frictionless free trial and self-serve sign-up processes help convert our blog readers and referrals from our brand advocates into customers, with over 80% of our revenue in 2020 coming from self-serve customers.”

However, a true sales function results in larger customers. “In addition to our self-serve selling motion, in recent years we have begun to invest in a sales-assisted selling motion to identify opportunities to increase business with existing customers and to assist larger customers in adopting our services. Our sales-assisted selling motion has experienced substantial growth and helps customers that, in 2020, were approximately 20 times larger in terms of average revenue per customer than our self-serve customers.”

Thought leadership with content matters. “We have fostered deep community engagement with valuable content we share on our blog — in 2020 alone, more than 3 million readers consumed content that we shared there. Our content encourages organic, inbound traffic that we believe serves as our greatest source of advocates and referrals. We will continue investing in our customer acquisition and inbound demand generation activities, which is driven predominantly by our blog content, our case studies, social sharing, earned media, and our self-serve sign up model.”

Land and expand of course. “We employ a land-and-expand model that drives additional revenue from existing customers. As customers generate, store, and back up more data, their use of our platform increases, creating natural opportunities for revenue expansion. We are able to further expand our relationships with our customers when they adopt new features and use cases that lead to increased usage of our platform. Our land-and-expand strategy is evidenced by our overall net revenue retention rate of 113% and 114% as of December 31, 2019 and 2020, respectively. As a result of our efforts to-date, as of June 30, 2021, our revenue per customer has grown 45% since the first quarter of 2019.”

International expansion is a must. “While our sales and marketing efforts have primarily focused on the United States, our existing customer base spans more than 175 countries, with 28% of our revenue originating outside of the United States for the year ended December 31, 2020.”

90% gross dollar retention. “We believe our high gross customer retention rates demonstrate that we serve a vital service to our customers, as the vast majority of our customers tend to continue to use our platform from one period to the next.”

Interesting industry data. “IDC estimates that approximately only 4% of global data was stored in public cloud environments in 2010 compared to a projected 53% in 2024. Multi-cloud deployments are becoming more commonplace as companies seek to avoid vendor lock-in, minimize latency, and provide redundancy for their mission critical data. According to Frost & Sullivan’s 2020 Global Cloud User Survey, 43% of respondents indicated current adoption of multi-cloud in 2020 and 84% of respondents indicated planned adoption of multi-cloud in 2022. Cybersecurity Ventures estimates that the global cost of ransomware attacks alone will reach $20 billion in 2021. According to the Threat Landscape Report in 2020 by Bitdefender, the total number of global ransomware reports increased by 715% year over year in the first half of 2020.”

SME’s are overlooked by cloud vendors. “Diversified cloud vendors optimize for large multinational enterprises with significant IT resources and expansive, complex use cases. According to Flexera’s 2020 State of Cloud survey, businesses with fewer than 1,000 employees have substantially lower cloud bills and IT spend, and on average 56% of these businesses are spending less than $600,000 annually compared with only 12% of enterprises. The financial opportunity that enterprise customers represent influences the product roadmap and engineering focus of diversified cloud vendors, resulting in solutions that are not optimal for mid-market businesses.”

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