I’m PJ Bouten, Co-Founder and former CEO of Showpad. I’d love to share my experience and lessons learned from scaling Showpad from zero to a global +€75M in ARR Business with this community! AMA

In 2011 I partnered with Louis and Peter to co-found Showpad, a revenue enablement platform for commercial teams. Leading Showpad as its CEO, I grew the company from 0 to +€75M in ARR, built a team of over 500 Showpadders (or good-natured ass-kickers as we call them), and raised + €150M from investors like Hummingbird, Dawn Capital, and Insight Venture Partners.

As a European start-up, we managed to build a substantial presence in the US, driven by our platform strategy. Today over 50% of our revenue comes from the US, and we have over 1.200 customers across the globe, most of which are big enterprise companies like Johnson & Johnson, BASF and Unilever. Early 2022 I transitioned to become the company’s Executive Chairman.

Besides building and leading Showpad I am an active angel investor, with investments in more than 30 software companies like Spendesk, Swan, Iter8, Growblocks, Silverfin and Deselect.

On the personal side, I am married to Liesbeth, father of 3 young kids and an avid Kitesurfer, and a competitive Mountainbike rider.

Building and scaling a global SaaS business is incredibly exciting and rewarding, yet at times it can be challenging and hard. Starting and growing a business is one of the most meaningful professional and personal journeys. Happy to share my experience (the good, the bad and the ugly) and talk about:

  • Internationalization and how to enter new markets
  • What I learned from making several acquisitions with Showpad.
  • Building and scaling your culture
  • Raising money and choosing the right investors
  • How to hire and retain great talent
  • How to grow as a leader and a person
  • How to scale your GTM and drive performance
  • Navigating the current environment both from an operational or financial perspective.
  • Importance of prioritizing health and well-being (of yourself and your employees)
  • What I look for when making angel investments

I’ll be answering questions on September 15th, between 4:30-06:00 PM CEST. Looking forward to it!


This September 15th, we’re really looking forward to hosting Showpad’s co-founder and former CEO, Pieterjan (PJ) Bouten (@pjbouten). From doing CRM implementations across Europe as a consultant at Accenture (“then I got bored of wearing a suit and a tie to work every day”), to venturing into startups at a social network that preceded Facebook, to co-founding an app development studio, and then starting a category-shaping, SaaS business with Showpad, PJ has long abided by solving “massive problems,” “reiterating value at every customer touchpoint,” and most importantly, being people-first amidst the hardest of scaling challenges.

PJ Bouten’s brain-pickings :brain:

(Curated excerpts to give you a sense of some of PJ’s insights, beliefs, and realizations)

On international expansion and building two companies at once:

Our biggest challenge was that from the start, we started building out Showpad on two continents. That was very, very tough in the early days. That’s usually a challenge that most…Northern American SaaS companies only encounter or start solving when they’re at maybe 20-30m in ARR, as they look to open a London office or expand to Asia.

For Showpad, from the early days, Louis (my co-founder) moved to San Francisco. We started building out a team there. I started spending a lot of time there as well. We effectively had two companies within the company.

And early on needed to solve…and make sure we had a solid culture, that we had good communication processes in place. It probably pushed us to think on certain more strategic and harder-to-solve issues earlier on and it also triggered some earlier struggles maybe…but then it enabled us to scale quite faster.

Source: SaaStr | 2018

On an early, “near-death experience” with resellers:

When we started Showpad, we really believed that we could build a solution and then other agencies would resell us. And then they would be the sales engine of our growth.

After a year of doing that, we actually had several resellers that were selling Showpad, in a good way. We were making money. We also did some direct sales.

But the problem was that our product was changing so fast that the customers were unhappy because they weren’t serviced in the right way. As all of the communication and service ran through those resellers.

So on paper resellers and such indirect models look really great but you need have quite a mature product and really good communication and documentation and flows around that.

And we didn’t have that. So we had to change things and it cost us quite some money as we had to buy away all the contracts from those resellers.

That was a small, near-death experience in the early stages of our company.

Source: The SaaS Revolution Show | 2017

On the real issues with discounting:

So I think discounting for me is related to value. If you’re discounting too much either the customer doesn’t get the value or your sales reps aren’t able to articulate the value well enough.

Or you don’t have enough proof points to demonstrate the value. Maybe your pricing is just too high and you should rethink how you’re going to market.

Looking back at Showpad, I think, historically, in the early days, we discounted way too aggressively. Especially for bigger enterprise customers. And we did it just for the sake of winning the deal. And yes, in some cases, obviously because of the logo.

I would honestly ask that…some of my customers have come up to me after they were a customer for 1 or 2 years as we’ve developed a great relationship with some of the executives.

And the would say, ‘PJ, the way you guys went to market in 2014/15, you were cheap. If the price was double that and you’d have added a $100K in professional services, we still would have become a customer.’

It’s that balance that you need to find. And it’s not an easy thing. You learn it by going out there, selling your product, asking your customers for feedback, and as you develop some of these better relations with customers and get a better understanding of the market, you also get a better understanding of the value.

Source: SaaStr | 2018


Hey @pjbouten,

So glad to be hosting you for this AMA!

I’ve always marvelled at the many parallels Showpad and Chargebee have shared, having our beginnings almost around the same time a decade ago, bootstrapping for the first couple of years, figuring international expansion way earlier than most folks had to, and more.

It’ll be great to learn about your perspectives on one of these threads. You’ve mentioned how Showpad shaped and grew with an emerging software category. So, in the early days, on the marketing side, how did you think about balancing immediate and long-run efforts? And what were some other hard-to-tackle difficulties of being in a new category?


Hey @pjbouten,

Really looking forward to the session next month.

It’s been inspiring to follow the Showpad journey over the years. Much, much to learn from it. I think it’ll be really helpful for everyone in the community, especially given the current SaaS moment, to hear about how you navigated some really exacting times around the onset of the pandemic, having made the hardest decisions us founders ever make. What were some of the personal and organizational realizations you had in the process?

Thanks for doing this!



We outsource company career pages (example: your domain dot com slash jobs) integrated to recruitment SW (ATS/HRIS).

Now we are launching the job portal dream.jobs where advertisements will be automatically published from the ATS. — So #of adverts is solved. :slight_smile:

What would be your strategy to promote the job portal with B2C job seekers?


Hey @pjbouten,

Trust you are doing well!

Exciting to know you’d be on the AMA Soon.

Short Pitch for Context:

clAppIt is a platform that allows SaaS companies to build cloud applications by providing them a ready-to-use template of all the backend components like user management, RBAC, SSO + IAM, and Cloud Infra Setup bringing the cost of development up to 40% lower and saving 50% of development time. clAppIt aims to be the cloud operating model for SaaS companies to build cloud apps.

As an early-stage company (we are currently at 70% completion of our BETA), & being the only Business Co-Founder on my Team, I’m going through a lot of confusion framing clAppIt GTM, Early Signup’s to Sell our Product & about finding the right Investors.

Here’s what I’m facing and I hope it’s not too lengthy.

After speaking to some SaaS Influencers and DevOps folks on Twitter and LinkedIn DM’s, we understood that giving a powerful DEMO backed by our Story can save us from “Death by 1000 Cuts” (We know we’ll get better problems to counter, at least we would have shown we can build some impressive tech to the Demo viewer, either a prospect or a spectator.)

Here is my current dilemma,

We started building our product after talking to 5+ growing & scaling (funded by VCs, paying customers, etc. all the checklist of growth) company CTO’s assured us this is a product they would be glad to jump onto. (No Promises Though)

:interrobang: How do we scale this effort at large to get more people interested in the product?

:point_right: We are posting our weekly progress on Twitter Thread so people actually know where we are.

:point_right: Is content way the right way?

GTMs are often shunned by folks who do not understand the value proposition. Our product is not fit for companies who want to build prototypes and MVPs, we only come at scale, and that too in the backend at your Engineering team.

Since our primary decision makers would be VP of Engineering or CTOs who would be backed by their DevOps teams, we believed the tactic of approaching VCs and Accelerators who have growing portfolio companies would be the right direction.

:interrobang: GTM can either elevate us or bring us down, How do you suggest going about it at this stage?

:point_right: As an early-stage company, all we could do so far is list down all the prospective companies that can become our customers. I took the cohorts of YC and started reaching out to the founders on Linkedin.

:point_right: Reaching out to Enterprise SaaS CTOs in the Bay Area to seek product feedback on our early builds which we can demo next month.

Finally, my co-founders who are tech wizards have told me how big of an Engineering Task we will be taking on if we want to give value to SaaS companies going forward.

The product has a strong sense of value system attached to it and a deep sense of responsibility to save engineers time and money to build Scalable SaaS tools.

We need Money (of course after we get some paid customers) to actually achieve the product we want to completely build.

:interrobang: How do we approach investors with this value system-driven approach and not endangering the approach to provide value to the customer, not increasing the valuation of the company?

:point_right: Listing down all the VCs that have a fund thesis to invest in SaaS, DevOps and Founder Centric Approach & are Ecosystem Driven (researching the team behind VCs too) even before approaching on a cold email or a LinkedIn/Twitter DM.

:point_right: Applied to YCombinator.

Appreciate your time and looking forward to your guidance on how we can craft a path to grow our startup. :pray:

Pura Vida,


added context: the portal www.dream.jobs is absolutely new. just launched the beta version today!

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Hey SaaS founders! :raised_hands:

If you are new to Relay and would like to join the AMA and ask PJ a question about a current SaaS challenge you’re facing, please head here to request an invite. See you around! :))

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Hey PJ thanks for doing this AMA!

In a recent talk you mentioned how category creation requires deep practice and (well-funded?) commitment. For an early-stage startup that is strapped for resources, how would you recommend approaching the work of shaping categories that likely only pays off in the long run. Can there be a lean way to do it? And how differently should they be thinking about verticals and segments?


Found the idea of building two companies at once, both intriguing and challenging, but as you’ve noted, that’s likely going to be the case with international expansion. Had a couple of questions regarding this:

— What roles did you hire for at first and why? Any mistakes one should be mindful of here?
— Was US the first country Showpad expanded into? What signals took you there? And what were some of the replicable learnings that you applied to other markets?


Had another one, @pjbouten! :))

Having transitioned Showpad towards the enterprise to an extent that a majority of the revenue now comes from that segment and in the form of multi-year contracts too, if you were to go back to when you were making that switch from primarily being self-serve, what would you do differently? Any unknown unknowns/potential missteps that founders at that stage should pay special attention to?


In the early days we did not have the goal to create a category. Showpad started as an iPad app to make sellers more productive on Trade-Shows.

We were focused on solving a real problem (Where is the latest presentation?) with a simple and easy to use solution. As the product evolved over time we realized we were becoming an important player in the Sales Enablement category yet with a totally different approach and vision than all other players in the market.

On the marketing side we were mainly focused on creating demand in the short term and not necessarily making investments that were purely focused on building brand or creating a category. At an early stage, building brand and creating a category is about having a clear vision for the future, building an amazing product and service that customers love (and talk about) and being out there evangelizing your view on the future and the magic your product can bring.

The hardest thing to tackle being new in a category is convincing people internally / externally that your vision for the future is relevant and step by step turning that vision into reality. In some way it’s a combination of predicting the future while building it and making it happen yourself.


Starting, growing and scaling a business comes with many highs and lows. A couple of things I learned when navigating tough times or going through difficult decisions.
1/ Share your struggles with people you trust and have experience in your role and solicit feedback 2/ Lead with empathy and compassion.
3/ Communicate clearly and decisively.

One of the best realizations I had navigating through tough times was when we had to do some lay-offs at the start of the pandemic. Afterward several (former) Showpadders thanked me for the way we handled this difficult decision and the way we communicated/executed it.


Hey Praveen

There is a lot to unpack in your write-up. Will try to provide some guidance with the limited understanding of your product and market I have.

Before scaling your GTM approach I would focus on ensuring you have a product that can show some of the magic you want to bring and deliver value to your (future) customers.

When talking to prospects and leads it’s great to paint a great vision for the future and what the product will be able to do yet to get traction and a better understanding if the value proposition resonates it will be super helpful to be able to put a working product out there.

Doesn’t need to have all the bells and whistles. Doesn’t need to solve for all the use cases you have in mind yet it does need to show prospects you can build something that will help them with a need. This will instill confidence you can continue to make progress and provide even more value in the future.

So while there are things you can do on the GTM side to already generate leads, be present in the market, tell your story,… Early stage big focus needs to be on getting a product out there and get feedback from first customers and believers.


Thanks for sharing that, PJ!

On that same thread, given what’s been happening in SaaS (and tech in general) over the past few months, what are some of the broad, proactive steps that you’ve taken from an operational perspective? And (I know it’s hard to project too far) what’s your outlook on how things will evolve for SaaS startups in the next few months? What should early-mid stage founders be prepping for?


Things that come up from my side when you talk about a lean way to build a category
1/ Big focus on product, and if there are capabilities to let it grow through PLG tactics or explore some viral elements it might have. We did this in the early days at Showpad (We had a free trial / when sellers were sharing content the landing page had Showpad branding on it… )
2/ Double down on being present and evangelizing the market through focused thought leadership efforts social / blogs/articles and being “out there” E.g. at events or conferences.
3/ Leveraging first customers to build advocates and organize (virtual) user conferences.


The first roles we hired internationally were AE’s / CSM’s and Support. When entering a new region, it’s always helpful if a co-founder or one of the early employees can relocate to infuse culture/tribal knowledge.

Mistakes I made when expanding internationally are not having enough patience and assuming the same recipes in one region would apply to another.


US was indeed the first country we expanded to. The Main 2 reasons being
1/It is our biggest market
2/It’s the region where most talent applicable to our industry (MarTech) and business model (SaaS) resides.

The replicable learning that applies to every market is that you have to be very rigorous in making sure you get these first hires right as they have a big impact on culture and traction in the region.


2 things I would do differently:
1/ Be more explicit that enterprise and SMB/commercial require 2 distinct motions / processes / team/knowledge.
2/ Not letting go of self - serve yet use it to our advantage in both segments. Having a free trial can also be a powerful way to generate lands, even in the enterprise .


The last 2 years we already had a big focus on efficiency at Showpad which helps in navigating the current environment. From our side operationally not much has changed other than that we are even more cautious when it comes to spending money. Our team keeps a close eye on burn/ operational costs and efficiency metrics like LTV/CAC + we hire at a slower pace vs the last 24 months which is probably the same for most tech companies today.

I believe in the next few months there will still be early-stage deals yet at a slower pace and only when it’s either experienced founders or companies with exceptional metrics/traction. Later stage is a tougher environment. Many companies raised money at big valuations over the last 24 months. The good news is a lot of that money is still on the bank for most of these companies. The bad news is many companies are/were faced with high burn rates and inefficiencies due to their high growth over the last years. Nobody likes to do a down round so for many companies this means they will have to take a more cautious approach to preserving cash while growing into their valuation.

If you are an early / mid-stage founders you should focus on having a clear idea of what the next milestone is you need to hit that will put you in a position to continue to grow and/or raise capital and make sure to create a solid plan how to get there as efficiently as possible (as in without running out of cash). And make sure to build in some contingency. No idea how long the current environment will last. Could be over in 6 months, yet could also take 24 months or more.