The hit show, How I Met Your Mother (HIMYM), ran from 2005 to 2014, following Ted Mosby in one of television’s most drawn-out love stories. Ted spends no less than nine seasons explaining to his children how he met their mother, taking many detours to explain failed relationships and the antics of his friends Marshall, Lily, Robin, and Barney along the way.
While continually breaking bottles of 35-year-old Glen McKenna whiskey and “eating sandwiches” may not be an accurate representation of a software as a service (SaaS) leader’s professional style, there are plenty of aspects of the show that are certainly relatable.
Here are just a few.
1. The SaaS startup marathon
Starting a SaaS business takes preparation and endurance. Jumping in quickly might yield immediate results, but the aftermath of going too hard too soon can leave a business unable to move after initial success. It’s important to prepare, know your capacity, and pace growth appropriately.
Barney learned this lesson the hard way in season 2. After boldly stating that running a marathon is easy, even without training, Marshall bets Barney he can’t run the NYC marathon that day.
Surprisingly, Barney pulls it off. The aftermath, however, is anything but legen—wait for it—dary; Barney gets on the subway and finds when he reaches his stop he can’t use his legs. The race has temporarily paralyzed him.
Some SaaS businesses know what it’s like to experience stagnation after early growth. However, by planning and strategizing, beta testing, and compiling the proper resources, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Set up onboarding and other paths to customer success, and add the right third-party automation tools to your toolkit to avoid flat-lining.
Another thing you need to make sure you have, of course, is the right partner…
2. Powerful partnerships
Vendors and resellers are a critical component of your business’s success: the right partnership can launch a small startup onto the enterprise radar. This all depends, of course, on efficient communication and workflow between parties.
Lily and Marshall are an excellent example of a great partnership with good communication. While the pair went through the paces when Lily left to pursue her art in San Francisco, and again when Marshall decided to leave environmental law for corporate law, their shared goals always helped them overcome challenges and remain together.
Similarly, when your business’s goals change, or your partner sets new sights, a little give and take will be necessary.
Your partners want you to succeed as much as you do, and need your help to make it happen. With that shared goal in mind, communication becomes important.
- How exactly should this product be taken to market?
- How does the vendor sell?
- How will innovation be enabled, so that the product stays fresh?
Communicating big decisions with partners is important, but including them in decisions is often even better. Having designated points of contacts on each side of the relationship who are informed and communicative can help avoid the need for a classic HIMYM intervention.
Speaking of damage control…
3. The willingness to try anything
“Hail Mary” moves aren’t uncommon in SaaS, especially in the early stages. While courting multiple potential customers, SaaS businesses are often willing to try almost anything to onboard more users. This can mean creating customized solutions outside the planned spectrum of the software, or offering unsustainable pricing or discounts in exchange for reviews and branding placement.
In season 4, episode 9, Robin’s blind date Mitch accidentally reveals his Hail Mary dating technique, “The Naked Man,” to Ted. The technique is something Mitch apparently employs when a date hasn’t gone as planned, but he’d still like to move things to the bedroom.
It’s a “shock and awwww” approach, he explains while standing naked in the living room. And it works two out of three times.
In the long run, these relationships often aren't sustainable—in SaaS or in real life. Just as Robin and “The Naked Man” had a short-lived relationship after Mitch’s last-ditch effort, many businesses find moves made in desperation simply don’t play out long-term. If a promise of deliverables or lowered prices prove unsustainable, it’s often better to cut losses and move on.
Sometimes, pinpointing how to achieve success can be tricky…
4. Figuring out what works
Nailing down what is, and isn’t, working for your SaaS business can be difficult.
- Which marketing efforts are converting?
- What features are retaining customers and preventing churn?
- What third-party tools are providing return on investment?
It’s kind of like solving the mystery of the pineapple.
After a particularly wild night in the show’s first season, Ted spends an episode trying to recall the evening before by piecing together clues left behind, including a pineapple on his nightstand. The night had been a success in some ways, and a failure in others. At the end of the episode, the pineapple is the only thing left unexplained.
Pineapples can be many things in SaaS, from best customer acquisition techniques to the most promising developmental direction.
The only way to really answer questions about what is and isn’t working for your business is with analytics, and lots of them.
Fortunately, subscription analytics are easily accessed for just about everything in SaaS, from marketing to billing, meaning your pineapple mystery doesn’t have to stay a mystery for long.
And you may be surprised by what shortcomings you find…
5. Learning early lessons
For many SaaS business, a look back at early product designs and marketing efforts can be cringe-worthy. From unintuitive user interfaces to dirt-cheap discounting tactics that wound up hurting the bottom line, there’s often plenty of embarrassing material to mine.
There’s no reason to let your past hold you back, though. Just look at how Robin Sparkles turned out.
Oh yes; we’re going there. In the second season of the show, we discovered Robin has an embarrassing secret: she was a Canadian teenage pop star. With top hits such as “Let’s Go to the Mall,” “Sandcastles in the Sand,” and “P.S. I Love You,” Robin would really like to leave her past with singing and acting on Space Teens behind.
The gang certainly doesn’t make it easy. Every time a new iteration of Robin Sparkles appears, it’s the result of Robin’s so-called friends doing some undesired digging. What’s worse, it always seems to come up when she’s struggling to establish herself professionally in the newscasting field.
Competitors sometimes use similar tactics, pulling old negative reviews, screencaps, and shortcomings to suggest your business isn’t up to snuff.
However, just as Robin moved on to become a highly successful television news anchor, most early SaaS mistakes can be overcome. Remember to focus on where you are, not just where you’ve been, and set sights on where you’re going.
6. Staying connected to your passion
As your SaaS business goes through trials and tribulations, it’s important to stay connected with what made you passionate about the product or service in the first place.
What's the thing that will keep you returning, and keep your interest ignited, even when it seems all hope may be lost?
Whose lives are you affecting? What's your impact beyond yourself and your business?
What's your blue French horn?
Appearing both in the first and the last episode of the show, and many in between, the blue French horn was a symbol of Ted and Robin’s connection. Through various ups and downs, breakups and reunions, it was stolen from a restaurant and returned, only to be stolen again and returned again. This happened quite a few times before the show ended with Ted presenting it once more to Robin.
If you can identify and revisit the blue French horn of your business, you can keep your connection to your mission, and energy, alive.
In a constantly evolving industry like SaaS, change is inevitable. The cast of How I Met Your Mother not only shows us what to avoid, but also that with the right people and attitudes, anything is possible.
Image credits: CBS, Giphy