Interview with Jane Portman of Userlist

Interview with Jane Portman of Userlist

 Jane is the co-founder of Userlist, an email marketing automation platform for SaaS companies

To read the full interview with Jane, check out Kicking SaaS: 101 Founders on What it Takes to Launch a Software as a Serviceavailable on April 29.


What is Userlist? 

Userlist is an email automation tool for SaaS companies. It helps you onboard and engage your users based on what they do and what they don't do, as well as nurture your marketing leads. Our secret sauce is SaaS-specific features, like in-app notifications and full support for company accounts.

How did you identify this as a need in the market?

Four years ago, I was running another SaaS product called Tiny Reminder. At the time, I couldn't find a tool to help me manage my users and send them behavior-based stuff. Once I sold Tiny Reminder, the new idea was immediately on the table. We got together as a team of co-founders and started in the fall of 2017. 


What was Tiny Reminder?

It was a small productivity tool. My big mistake with that product was that it was useful, but it didn't have a clear target audience or use case. 

With Userlist, we have settled on serving SaaS founders like ourselves from day one. That's part of our company ethos–to be helping people who are starting out and chasing their SaaS dream.

You’ve been both a solo founder and a co-founder. What would you say about the pro’s/con’s of each approach? 

Of course, there are drawbacks and benefits for each approach. If you're a solo founder, you can call the shots, and be your own boss to a certain extent. But it's much more exciting and enjoyable on a daily basis to have someone else who cares about the business as much as you do, and to share the ups and the downs of running a business. 

The whole thing is about the journey, anyway. It's not like you can launch something and reap the benefits and then retire in two months. You’ve got to enjoy yourself in the process. That means setting up a comfortable working environment for yourself and your team, and making sure you share goals, values, and a vision. 

Why is running a business rewarding for you?

One of my joys in life as a product person is crafting a tool that's genuinely useful to other people, but also matches my design standards and the ideas of what a good tool should look like. Bringing that to life is highly rewarding, even when we have limited resources and have to strictly prioritize where those resources have to be spent. As a consultant, you never get that experience. You rarely get to follow along with implementation, let alone gain creative control over the projects.

Owning something useful and then watching it grow and bring value to the people is rewarding for me. That's at the top of my Maslow pyramid. 

How can SaaS founders learn to prioritize allocation of resources? 

If you eat less, you're going to lose weight. But it's really hard to follow through on that. It’s the same with priorities in a startup. As a founder, you're bombarded daily with new information, new opportunities, new feature requests. You also get partnership ideas, different marketing ideas. Ideas are jumping out from every corner. Deciding what's important and sticking to it is challenging. But if you do that, it will bring you more success than if you try everything and “die by a thousand paper cuts.” 

You’re a mom of three. How do you balance life as a mom with being a founder? 

I don't have a silver bullet solution to that, except for getting as much help as you can. I couldn't have gotten to where I am today without the help of babysitters and parents helping to drive the kids around. 

For me, being a business person and a mom is easier than just being a mom alone. Running a business helps me keep my mind active. With my first child, I went on a proper maternity leave and spent three months not working. It was fun, but I didn’t last long. With the other two kids, I didn't take that much time off. I still kept working, just at a comfortable pace. It was enjoyable to watch my kids grow, and also watch the business grow.


To read the full interview with Jane, buy Kicking SaaS: 101 Founders On What it Takes To Launch a Software as a Service. Available on April 22nd!

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