Three Cheers for Software Executive Forum
Why I Would Attend this SaaS Conference Every Quarter if I Could
Sep 12, 2018
I’d been up since dawn and had sat through a full day of panels and networking sessions. Ordinarily, this would have been my cue to cite parental duties and cut out early, but I was somehow still tuned in and ready for the next wave of conversation, cocktails, and canapes.
This was Software Executive Forum’s second-ever annual event, held at a Marriott in Brooklyn, New York. It’s organized by the team behind Software Executive Magazine and Software Business Growth, and I hadn’t been terribly familiar with either when I caught wind of the conference. Still, others in my network said it had been very good the previous year, so I went, hoping for a day of networking and some new ideas.
This, it turns out, is exactly what I got, except at a quality level exceeding my wildest expectations.
In general, I find it safest to keep my expectations modest at these types of events. I’m usually overwhelmed by the sheer number of available talks at larger conferences, for example, and the talks I choose to attend can be hit or miss. Sometimes the discussion turns out to be less interesting or informative than I’d hoped. Other times, the topic is strong but the speaker uninspired.
What really set SEF apart was that every minute of every discussion, bar none, was both valuable and engaging. Prioritizing pith over convenience, SEF hand-picked the speakers and panelists (some of them authors) for their expertise in subjects they knew would be especially relevant to a room full of software executives.
"What really set SEF apart was that every minute of every discussion, bar none, was both valuable and engaging."
One talk in particular that stood out was “Running Your Software Company with the End in Mind,” an opening lecture by the exceptionally well-spoken Ivan Ruzic, Vice President of Corum Group. His presentation on mergers and acquisitions, which ran a full hour without once becoming dull or redundant, was rich with data and actionable insights. Enlightening topics included the Rule of 40 as well as an anecdote about a company whose 12-month trailing revenue went from $4M to $5M but whose valuation dropped significantly due to its slowing growth rate.
Being in business development, I found the panel on channel partnerships particularly informative. There were great suggestions on how to treat business partners as well as how to address thorny issues like channel conflict, onboarding, quality, commissions, etc.
The talk on Customer Success as a discipline was also interesting, though not because the content was new to me. Exago has prioritized customer satisfaction since its founding, and I was surprised to learn just how few businesses had established formal Customer Success disciplines. For us, it’s always been a way of life.
I believe a big reason I was so alert for the panel discussions is because networking breaks were luxuriously long and numerous. Breaks were half an hour long and spaced no more than an hour-and-a-half apart, giving attendees ample time to stretch, browse the sponsor booths, and progress beyond the usual conversation-openers before being called back to their seats, refreshments in hand.
In all likelihood, a major contributing factor to Software Executive Forum’s overall quality was its size. With only fifty or so attendees, the conference facilitated a close-knit culture. No questions went unanswered during the Q&A’s, no panelist so mobbed during breaks that you couldn’t engage them in conversation if you wanted to. If the SEF can uphold this standard of quality in speakers and format, I’d love to see them host more than one east-coast event a year! In the meantime, if anyone can recommend a similarly elevated software conference, do get in touch.