"No One is Coming to Save Us," The "Need to Reestablish PMF," and Other Earnest Founder Commits for 2023


Predictions are reaching an intolerable pitch. The hurtling uncertainty of the times calls for just that. And we need some grasp of future SaaS distortions. But as is true for seeking out the past, there’s only so much that general forecasts can offer.

What follows, then, are commitments instead.

The mindsets and practices that some founders are committing to in light of what they’ve recognized about the present moment. The specific ways in which they’re choosing to respond as the world around them refigures itself.


“No one is coming to save us”

Crossbeam’s Bob Moore (@BobMoore) on a difficult-to-admit yet incredibly freeing reminder.

Here at Crossbeam our leadership team lives by a mantra of “no one is coming to save us.” It reinforces the idea that there are no silver bullets — that the next VC investment, exec hire, or big customer is just a milestone. Only we can control our destiny.

This is a freeing mindset, especially in an environment full of constraints like most companies have in 2023. It means that we double down on investing in the people we have, seeking out intellectual honesty about every facet of the business, and a bias toward action and velocity.

Further reading: Bob on developing “some combination of muscle memory and scar tissue.”

“These are both choices that most tech startups reject”

SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin (@Rand) on two (maddeningly overlooked) industry fundamentals underpinning the current crisis.

The biggest things that protect us from downturns and difficult times are:

  1. Creating very achievable goals for the company, and not trying to promise ourselves, our team, or our investors anything outlandish. 95% of venture-backed startups fail to return their minimum capital requirements, ensuring a stressful, awful time for everyone involved with those companies. If you promise rocketship growth, then fail to meet it, you’re in for a bad time. But if you promise slow, steady, profitable, healthy operations, delivering on that is far more achievable, and you don’t get out over your skis on expenses trying to hit crazy growth numbers.

  2. Designing a business that solves a real, non-speculative problem in a field few others are trying to tackle, with an approach that’s straightforward and easy to understand/explain. Simple products and simple businesses are vastly easier to build, maintain, and market.

Those are both choices most tech startups reject, and I suspect that’s part of why they’re so powerful and rewarding.

Further reading: Rand on being a 2nd-time founder; “the low lows aren’t there, but neither are the high highs.”

“…there’s a need to reestablish or deepen product-market fit”

Chameleon’s Pulkit Agrawal (@pulkit) on bolstering the case for a truly differentiated product.

Product innovation is something we’re doubling down on. The belief behind this is that as the landscape and market changes, there is a need to re-establish or deepen product-market fit and find new ways to offer value.

Because we’re a SaaS business this comes predominantly from our product offering. What worked before may not be sufficient now, and so we’re seeking ways to stay focussed on our mission but find more creative and differentiating solutions for the market.

Further reading: Pulkit on a first-principles reframing of a founder’s work.

“It’s about the energy”

Userlist’s Jane Portman (@uibreakfast) on identifying efforts for their respective, innate capacities of meaning.

Like everyone, we’ll be managing our resources more tightly in 2023. For our team at Userlist, this means focusing on the most meaningful opportunities: meaningful content, meaningful partnerships, more things that we’re excited about.

We believe that our audience can sense true passion, and this brings the energy back to the team. It’s not just about the money and the time. It’s about the energy.

Further reading: Jane on the truths of building a must-have SaaS

“We waste years by not wanting to waste hours”

GoSquared’s James Gill (@jamesgill) on consciously breaking away from the tidy, familiar bounds of a startup’s day-to-day.

For me, 2023 is about stepping back, looking at the big picture, and using that to focus ourselves more than ever.

From everything I’ve learned over the years of running GoSquared, it’s that it’s so easy to fix small insignificant problems — it’s easy to take the default path of least resistance.

But the big changes come from doing things out of the ordinary, and doing things that don’t quite fit in, or obey the normal rules.

Last year, the one most important day of the whole year, and one that has formed a different trajectory for us, came from us downing our tools and blocking out our calendars, and setting artificial constraints.

It never feels easy or right to stop doing the day-to-day, it feels uncomfortable, and the urgent is often more likely to get attention than the important. But magic can come from when you mix it up and break from usual business.

So for 2023, it’s about making sure my schedule and the schedule of the whole company allows for time to break out of the status quo.

Don’t pack things so tightly that you can never break free and make mistakes and let your mind wander just a little.

A quote comes to mind in relation to this:

“We waste years by not wanting to waste hours.”

— Amos Tversky

Further reading: James on growing sustainably; “we spend every penny as if it’s our own — because it is.”

“In uncertain economic times, it’s even more important to listen to your gut.”

Tara AI’s Iba Masood (@IbaM) on prioritizing necessary, enlivening check-ins with the inner self.

Being cognizant of how I’m showing up at work and in life, and generally being more self-aware. In uncertain economic times, it’s even more important to listen to your gut, and make decisions that are congruent with your inner self.

To do this effectively, I’m spending more time meditating and in check-ins with my teams, so we can share what’s impacting us. We bring our whole selves to work, and my goal for 2023 is to show up more meaningfully for my stakeholders, our customers and our team.

Further reading: Iba on setting up engineering for growth.

“…have patience and let your efforts compound”

Wistia’s Brendan Schwartz (@brendan) on insistently narrowing the organizational focus to what’s already working.

I’d recommend doubling down on what’s already working in your business (even if it’s just on a small scale) as a path to growth over pinning your hopes on new, speculative initiatives.

Be rigorous, but have patience and let your efforts compound. This is the right move in any economic environment, but especially so when things are tight.

Further reading: Brendan on surviving the '08 recession.

“…teaching people to fish vs fishing for them”

Annum’s Patty Radford Henderson (@patty) on making the actual services-to-product transition and discovering the essence of selling SaaS in the process.

Three years ago I was working as a marketing consultant when I decided to start a software company. At first I thought the pivot was about solving problems via software vs. project based services. I was drawn to the idea of making a broader positive impact with a one-to-many model vs. working with only a few brands at a time.

But what I realized in 2022 was that the pivot was more about teaching people to fish vs. fishing for them. The thinking flipped from “how can I do this for you” to “how can we empower you.”

Instead of guarding the planning process like some kind of “secret sauce,” we’re training teams on our proven frameworks. Instead of delivering strategy decks, we’re demonstrating how to apply the thinking via 1:1 strategy sessions.

Instead of crossing fingers that the tactical plan stays on strategy, our integrated planning calendar guides the process and gives marketers the visibility they need to make better strategic decisions on a daily basis.

And I’m finding it much more rewarding.

In 2023 we’re doubling down on empowerment with a focus on presenting more educational talks at conferences, conducting more workshops and strategy sessions, following our customers’ lead on enhancements to our platform, and continuing to build out detailed tutorials.

“I am excited about the potential for growth and innovation in 2023”

Tactiq’s Ksenia Svechnikova (@ksenia) on the gleaming enterprise promise of recent, ballooning AI advances.

As a startup founder in the tech industry, I am excited about the potential for growth and innovation in 2023. Over the past year, we have seen a significant increase in the adoption of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.

In 2023, I expect this trend to continue as more businesses and organizations recognize the benefits of these technologies and integrate them into their operations.

One of the key areas of growth in the tech industry will be the development of new and improved tools and platforms for AI and machine learning. As these technologies become more widely used, there will be a greater demand for user-friendly, accessible tools that make it easy for businesses to implement and benefit from them.

This presents a great opportunity for startups like Tactiq to innovate and provide solutions that help organizations take advantage of these powerful technologies.

Another area of growth in the tech industry will be the continued expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT). As more and more devices become connected, the potential for new applications and services will increase, and this will drive demand for the development of new technologies and platforms to support the IoT.

Startups that are able to develop solutions that make it easy for businesses and consumers to connect and manage their devices will be well positioned to take advantage of this growth.

Overall, 2023 looks to be a promising year for the tech industry. As new technologies continue to emerge and gain mainstream adoption, there will be many opportunities for startups to innovate and make a real impact.

I am confident that Tactiq is well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities and continue to grow and succeed in the coming year.

Further reading: Ksenia on experimenting better with safe-fail probes.



Thanks so much to everyone for sharing such timely notes for this difficult moment. There’s much for fellow founders to relate to and learn from. :muscle:

Something that really struck a chord with me while reading these and it’s something that all the commitments here have in common, and as @BobMoore has phrased it so well, is “seeking out intellectual honesty across all facets of the business.”

It’s something we’ve been trying to get better at as well.

A critical practice, really.

Because consistent growth overcomes pretty much all challenges. But it also papers over cracks. Cracks that expand over time to become serious issues. Cracks that have been made visible with the ongoing upheavals in the market.

We need to solve those issues from scratch. And ask ourselves how can we preserve important resources while knowing very little about the future.

— How do we fight to keep every single customer?
— How do we preserve more cash that allows us to serve them better each day?
— How do we prioritize decisions that can have the most impact on how much we get to preserve for today and tomorrow?

And this isn’t just about being hyper aware of what’s inefficient, we have to be as thorough about identifying small wins. And if a team has found one, we have to learn to tell their story across the org.

For instance, in the completely distributed setting that we operate in, let’s say there’s a leader in the East Coast, who by kicking off their days early (~10am) has managed to create a 5-6 hr overlap with teams in India and Europe.

That way they’re able to coach, inspire, and retain people that can drive much better impact. Something that basic. This isn’t even a skillset.

Just a simple change in operating routines and a template that can be replicated contextually for other functions and have an equally outsized impact.

How can we find more of these each week?

We’re challenging ourselves to commit to doing rigorous internal reviews — with an eye for everything that goes into a process:

— especially things we wouldn’t assume belong to a certain playbook
— and ensuring that we don’t get carried away by how a past decision was made and end up defending it

What’s happening is a critical resetting of our standard assumptions and it’s a chance to pay fresh attention to all the fundamentals (particularly the non-obvious ones).