Software companies are everywhere. Around the dot.com boom, capital flocked from institutional investors and private ones alike to fuel the software wave. As a result, software powers many aspects of our life and work today—everything from transportation to communications and even running a coffee shop. Many small, agile businesses are turning towards software to solve their daily obstacles; the popular ones include data organization and sales.
As a 2x SaaS founder himself, Jon Lo spent the last handful of years consulting small to medium-sized enterprises, running into the same problems time and time again. His solutions have always revolved around technology, and in particular, SaaS solutions. A self-taught developer and London School of Economics (LSE) graduate, one of his previous companies distributed PPE material at scale to hospitals in the UK, all powered by software. This venture landed him on the Forbes 30 under 30 List. Realizing that the future of business lies in chains of software, Jon set out to turn his consulting business into a generalizable, commercialized solution. He’s pinpointed and researched several solutions that are applicable across all types of industries. Currently, Jon’s company, Super SaaS, is focused on helping SMBs like coffee shops and restaurants build outreach and sales automation systems using a unique combination of software.
Jon shares with us his insights on this burgeoning industry, which will revolutionize how businesses are run, unlocking the endless potential to secure deals and enable rapid growth.
Interviewer: Can you tell us about your journey into entrepreneurship? How did your background or past affect your present career?
Jon: I was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. I always knew I wanted to do something on my own. Even when I pursued my master’s at the London School of Economics, I could never see myself getting a job directly after graduation. Doing my master’s was my way of escaping Calgary and exposing myself to more opportunities in London. I spent the majority of my time competing in something called the Hult Prize, which was my first taste of entrepreneurship.
The Hult Prize was an annual social entrepreneurship competition in which the prize was valued at $1 million. Despite things not going as smoothly because it was my first time, I was immediately hooked after, and gained several valuable lessons from that experience. I was spending more time on this project than I was going to class. After I graduated, I started an online marketplace and that was the first real company that I focused on. I essentially taught myself how to code because I didn’t have any technical knowledge from studying economics.
The best way to frame my journey is I self-taught myself many valuable technological skills, which then translated into several projects and different startups as time went on. During COVID in the UK, I started this initiative to distribute PPE to the NHS, like hospitals and GPs. We were sending food supplies to people who were self-isolating. None of that would’ve been possible without the tech skills I developed by teaching myself from the ground up.
Interviewer: What’s your approach to learning something as complex as code, especially coming from a social-humanities background?
Jon: What’s interesting is that I didn’t take a code-first approach, as most people would. I was solely interested in building something that worked. I didn’t have the time to take a course or learn data syntax; I just wanted to solve problems practically. Over time that combined into a unique skillset where I kept discovering pre-existing companies which solved problems I found.
I have a very solid understanding of the ecosystem of SaaS companies because that’s where my focus was. I could combine, say, 12 different SaaSs together to solve just one problem. I’ve tried out hundreds of SaaS products to find the advantages of each.
In a way, I stumbled across code, and it led me to discover another very unique skill set. By combining my knowledge of code and knowing how different SaaS products can work symbiotically, you can achieve scale quickly. This is what made the PPE distribution project possible.
But what I’m focused on is on taking that skillset and commercializing it.
Interviewer: Tell us about your most recent project.
Jon: I recently launched something called Super SaaS, which solves generalizable problems for businesses at scale. I’ve spent a significant amount of time consulting for a variety of companies, from startups to enterprises and everything in between. I’ve been able to relate common problems companies have to a system of SaaSs that can solve these problems. All the other companies I’ve worked on were derivative of other things, so this venture ties that knowledge together. For example, I co-founded a satellite company, but my expertise was never specifically about satellite imagery. Even though I did PPE distribution, my expertise was never about producing different types of PPE. My expertise is very well honed on the Super SaaS side. That’s the goal I’ve been aiming towards for the last six years.
For the last couple of years, I have been systematically working through a few core problems. For instance, learning the best way to reach customers and which SaaS combinations would work the best in what situations. For me, crafting that internal puzzle for myself and deliberately choosing consulting projects allowed me to develop those skill sets. I had this mental checklist that once I got to the point where I felt like I could commercialize something that was very generalizable, I started thinking about how to take this model forward, and that’s where the origin of the Super SaaS began.
Interviewer: What do you think differentiates developers that stay developers; and developers that become entrepreneurs?
Jon: I think it’s understanding that code is for a certain purpose. That’s key, and knowing that if you are creating a business, your code is only useful to the extent that it solves a problem someone else is willing to pay for. A lot of developers I’ve come across can be very myopically focused on perfecting certain logic or making a user interface look a certain way. But they often miss the bigger point. Conversely, I think a lot of non-technical founders have a high-level understanding of what they’re building, but they lack that detailed, nuanced understanding of how different tools work together and how code works.
The ideal is that you’re able to combine both of those skill sets and use code simply as a tool to solve your problem.
Interviewer: Do you think some skills like sales and marketing are innate or do you think that’s something founders need to train themselves on?
Jon: I believe that sales and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. I don’t think you can be a good entrepreneur if you don’t know how to sell. I think that’s probably the single most important trait. You can probably be an entrepreneur if you don’t know how to code. You can probably be an entrepreneur if you don’t know how to do data analysis, but I think, just like the definition of entrepreneurship, is where you’re solving someone else’s problem in a way that they’re going to pay for it. If you don’t know how to tell people your vision and convince them that your solution is better, it’s very difficult to be an entrepreneur. The question of whether it’s innate or not, I think to an extent, maybe some people are more naturally inclined to the mindset where you can go to a park and sell lemonade to strangers. And more innately understanding how value exchange works and be like, “Today I spent $5 on a coffee at this coffee shop. What are the things that made me spend the $5?” Was the coffee shop in a good location? Did they have great marketing and branding? Why did I part with my $5, and was it worth it? Just having that innate understanding about every time you transact money.
I think some people can be more naturally inclined to that, although I think it’s a skill that you can develop. It’s something that the more you focus on it, the better you become. When I was in my master’s, I didn’t have this understanding at all. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but it’s something I got better at with observation and testing. I was able to put together this mental model of how value exchange works.
Interviewer: Can you go deeper into one of the business problems you want to solve?
Jon: I think knowing how to sell your product to the right audience is a pretty generalizable model that works for all companies. One of the niches I’m focusing on right now is helping the food and beverage industry be able to sell its products to more independent retailers.
Local coffee shops, cafes, bars, gift shops-these smaller mom-and-pop shops are not like giant chains like Walmart or Kroger. I’m approaching this from a tech perspective and combining different tools for outreach. If you want to go a bit deeper into it, there are four Saas tools involved. The first is being able to find the right locations where you want to be contacted later on. There’s a tool called Phantom Buster, which is a French SaaS company. It’s got over a hundred thousand customers now and it’s very efficient at scraping data on Google Maps. That’s important because Google Maps is a global source of data for physical locations. You can type something like “cafes in London,” and it’ll give you all the results. There’s a fundamental difference in the approach. I’m not building my own scraper as many developer-oriented personalities might do; I’m leveraging something that already exists. That’s a strategic consideration because I realize that Google Maps is constantly changing; it’s a moving target, so it doesn’t make sense to build an in-house scraper. It makes more sense to enlist a SaaS company in which this is their core area of expertise. The second SaaS I use is Airtable. All the scraped data goes into Airtable. The reason I chose Airtable is also quite strategic. It’s a database it allows me to do relationship management of different data structures in a way that Google Sheets doesn’t, and I’m also very bullish on its trajectory.
Airtable recently launched a feature called Interfaces, which helps you make front-end dashboards. One of the big reasons I choose them is also because it’s investing. I think the company’s quite bullish; it’s going to do better over time.
The third SaaS is a company called Make, it was previously called Integral Map, and it’s a backend API integration solution. It’s like a Zapier, where you can automate a bunch of data from one tool to another. Make does the same thing, but it’s more powerful. Their trade-off is the learning curve is a lot higher. You can do incredibly complex logical flows. It’s essentially visual programming. I wouldn’t even call it a low-code tool. Less people have heard of it because it doesn’t have the same gravitas as a Silicon Valley company. It’s located in the Czech Republic. It just recently got acquired by Celonis, which is a huge European enterprise. There are sometimes these SaaS underdogs that fewer people know of but in my opinion, are objectively better.
Then the fourth and final SaaS is this company called Axiom.ai. That’s essentially a low-code browser automation tool, which helps you automate anything a user can do on a browser. I use that to build a system of sending Instagram DMs. We find all the leads for Google Maps and get all the Instagram accounts. Then this is a system that essentially enables me to build like Logic, which sends the DMs to these locations. They’re a YC company; again, they are super niche in their space. This category of tools it’s called RPA, Robotic Process Automation. You can click a button, and then, if this button does this, it’ll open this drop-down menu, then I’ll type in this text, essentially anything a user can do. All the competitors are designed for massive enterprises. Their price tags are a couple of thousand dollars a year minimum to start with.
But Axiom has pricing plans that are very friendly to smaller businesses. It’s quite niche in that there are very few competitors in that specific space for SMBs.
In general, I’m combining the best tools for the job, and all of these four things are linked together, but then it allows you to find and contact leads. When I sell it to customers, I don’t sell them on different tools because most people will find that very confusing. I package them all together into a super SaaS. My pricing model is also interesting. I don’t charge my customers directly, and they don’t pay me. The reason that it works is that they have their own accounts for each of these different tools. I earn an affiliate commission from these SaaS themselves.
Interviewer: How do you demonstrate the value of using all the software?
Jon: The key is making it very easy. Even though the customers have all these accounts, they don’t need to touch any of them. They don’t have to switch from one account to another and log into another one. They just have to use the front-end app I’ve built, which exists on their table. That’s one of the main advantages of that tool. It allows you to build frontend apps, and then I can use the APIs to link up all the other tools. That’s a major advantage. The final advantage is that the SaaS companies win because they get more customers. Once the customers are subscribed, they can use the SaaS to do other things beyond just my tool. From my perspective, there’s an additional layer of stickiness to my product.
When the customer subscribes to the SaaS, the SaaS can nurture them with email campaigns. Then it’s up to the SaaS to tell them why they should use the SaaS further. It’s an entirely different pricing model. The super SaaS combination is different, and the pricing model is radical.
What is also different about my tool is the backend infrastructure. Building a rocket is easy, but building the production line to build the rocket that’s the hard part. That’s how I think of it for super SaaS as well. Keep in mind that none of the customers have accounts with me. Every single customer has accounts with each of these different SaaSs. If I’m trying to improve the product or push a change, I don’t have direct control. I have to build a unique backend infrastructure that can update the configurations of all of these different SaaSs automatically.
If I added a new feature, I have to understand which customers are on what versions and be able to press a button and have it be the same as push changes in a standard product. And then do it across all of these different user accounts. It’s what enables the system to work. That, I think, is the most unique part of all of this. It allows me to scale and have customers connected to all different accounts.
Understanding the intricacies of sales is one thing, and understanding how technology can facilitate that is another. We’re at yet another unique crossroad where the transition to machine learning and AI is on the other side. Companies that fail to adopt and pivot quickly are at risk of underperforming or worse off, becoming irrelevant. Consumers are more demanding than ever for quick service, personalization, and efficiency. Software enables businesses to carry out operations and sales at unprecedented levels, with acute timing. For small businesses in particular, staying connected with their customers at all parts of the customer journey is more important than ever. Constant reminders equal constant connection. The more businesses can integrate multiple solutions in their day-to-day operations seamlessly, the better they can attend to their customers and focus on what makes their businesses thrive instead of scratching their heads over how to attract leads or fix loose nails in their business.