Jack of All Trades, Master of None: The SaaS Breadth vs. Depth Diligence Dilemma

What do you want to be when you grow up? This classic question isn’t often examined when it comes to tech (and SaaS) companies seeking growth equity capital.

In GRAPH Paper 46, a colleague and I wrote about scope creep for SaaS companies, and how companies with tight, defined missions may slowly (or sometimes quickly) erode their “best of” point solution status with new offerings that complicate their original value proposition. However, equally dangerous is when SaaS companies look to achieve “platform” status without focus, trying to forge their own path by promising an expansive list of offerings, without curating that list with intentionality.

While few phrases are more attractive in today's technology investment landscape than "all-in-one platform," buyer beware. SaaS companies with all-in-one platforms may find themselves blending categories to the point that potential customers are unable to classify the offering or assign it to an affiliated budget – an often not obvious enough adoption hurdle. What was once a focused, well-coordinated effort where a tight product improvement cycle harmonized with an equally rapid sales motion has become a “platform” that may soon be modularized where an underfunded, largely irrelevant chunk of capability becomes the sinkhole for engineering hours, sales force efforts, and management attention. The logical universe of buyers for this offering shrinks substantially – as greater scope makes mergers less synergistic, and lower share in expansion offerings typically means lower margins with correspondingly lower multiples.

This is not to say there is no room for trailblazing, but rather to say companies looking to do so should be thoughtful about the willingness of prospective buyers to accept the parameters of the category they attempt to create. And investors may be well served to be on the lookout.

To evaluate, SaaS companies and their prospective investors should ask themselves:

  1. Are there synergies to the customer in having multiple offerings within the same platform?
  2. Are each of the offerings housed in the platform typically purchased by the same buyer/from the same budget?
  3. How deep would the feature set need to be for each of these offerings to be viable as a point solution?

Putting this into practice, we’ve recently diligenced several SaaS companies where the value of “all-in-one” came into question.

  1. A CRM add-on we looked at had offerings housed in the platform that didn't gain synergies (neither for the customers nor for the target) by being bundled together. The three use cases, though sounding similar, were run by completely different internal stakeholders, and the processes did not interact with each other in any meaningful way, resulting in no administrative time savings or reduced implementation burden
  2. In that same instance, all three offerings were all too often selected and budgeted for by completely distinct departments, who naturally prioritized their singular use case during selection. Since there was not a central decision maker for all three, each decision maker gave little weight to the other features/functionalities it deemed irrelevant
  3. When looking at a different asset - an industry-specific administrative SaaS platform, the target suffered from “master of none” limitations. Given the limited resources of the platform and the expansive landscape it is trying to cover, none of the target’s offerings have the depth customers expect from a true point solution. Compared to the competitive landscape of any given category it straddled, this product came up short. Essentially, they were spread too thin

At its most extreme, these factors can result in a company inadvertently landing in a no-man's land: not deep enough to be a viable point solution, but also not affording a beneficial breadth to prospective customers. Investors looking to avoid low to moderate growth must ensure targets have a clear vision of what they will – and just as importantly, what they will not – become.

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