Surviving and thriving through a pandemic: lessons from SaaS leaders

CIBC not only generously came on board as a sponsor for SAAS NORTH NOW, they also lent Julia Kassam, Managing Director, CIBC Innovation Banking, as the panel moderator for “Proactive Mindset – How 3 SAAS CEOs found their legs in a crisis.”


Julia’s team provides capital to entrepreneurs and investors in the innovation economy, giving her great insight into the panel discussion with Emilie Cushman, Founder and CEO, Kira Talent, Catherine Dahl, CEO, Beanworks and Joe Maxwell, Managing Partner, FINTOP Capital. We sat down with Julia for a post-session chat.


Can you tell us a bit about the panel?


It was fascinating to hear from three SAAS leaders that operate in different sectors. Their experiences, although uniquely different, had common themes emerge – all with the goal to not only sustain their business during the pandemic but to thrive in ways they hadn’t imagined a year ago.


The session focuses on how these companies led their teams, managed customers and prepared to navigate for the future. What were some of your biggest takeaways from the conversation?


I was really impressed with how the businesses stayed connected with their employees and how they continued to focus on their customers’ needs.


During this time, leaders were challenged with not only their own fatigue, but how to manage their team members to avoid burnouts.  They’ve had to learn to lead in new ways that maintain their teams’ motivation to be productive and collaborate while getting everyone comfortable with the notion that the impacts of COVID-19 won’t end in the foreseeable future.  We heard that some found ways to connect to their employees by delivering care packages, establishing structured team events like virtual drinks, or even giving additional time off to encourage everyone to reboot.


We also heard how they’ve successively navigated this time with their customers – the most important of all was working alongside with their customers to understand if and how their needs were changing.



You talk with the panel about the opportunities that are emerging as a result of this unusual time. How does their experience reflect what you are seeing in the broader landscape?


Companies are adapting, pivoting and responding to their customers’ needs that are also changing as a result of the pandemic.


We are changing the way we work and lead. Think about how companies have had to change their communications to a largely virtual platform. Employees are now managing not only working from home, but managing the dynamic of living at work. Your computer is always within an arm’s reach. Layer this  with considerations for living arrangements and demands related to caring for family members of all ages, we have entered into the reality of bringing your full self to work.   Yet amongst the chaos, we are seeing team members excel in new areas outside of their scope and collaborate in ways they haven’t before. That resiliency truly shines through when teams have a strong leader who is in tune with cultivating a healthy sense of trust and transparency within their organization. It can’t be lost on us, that we have to find ways to celebrate the silver linings that come with our new normal.



What do you think people were surprised to hear during the panel discussion?


Continuously look for the opportunities to leverage your product or service in new ways.

There was a very optimistic focus in this discussion about thriving during difficult times. Interesting points were raised on how, historically, some of the best companies have been built during downturns in the economy. It’s really important for entrepreneurs to stay positive and forward looking — to focus on acquisitions, keep onboarding customers, and determine when to pivot or the timing to enter a new market.  Whatever it may be, it is all about adapting and shifting both in the way you lead and the way you do business.



How does CIBC help entrepreneurs and CEOs navigate through these challenging times?


CIBC Innovation Banking has proactively engaged with every client to understand their needs during this time of disruption. We have assured them that we are dedicated to maintaining a high level of availability, banking access and credit support. This includes reviewing financial plans to help put short-term fluctuations in the context of longer-term ambitions.


We have observed our clients shift their focus to enterprise resilience, all while still embracing opportunities and evolving their businesses through various stages of growth.

Our team understands that for companies to compete and accelerate growth in their fast-evolving sectors, they need a team that recognizes the unique financing requirements of scaling, even in times of disruption. A key benefit of working with a team that started financing early-stage, technology-based companies during the 2000 dotcom bubble, and navigated through the 2008 financial crisis with a portfolio of tech and life science companies, is that we have extensive experience to continue to support the sector in very volatile markets.


CIBC’s long term commitment to entrepreneurs and investors in the North American innovation economy remains steadfast as a trusted financial partner. Our specialized team leverages their deep industry knowledge and extensive deal experience to help clients reach their ambitions and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. We’ve worked with over 300 sponsors globally to offer tailored growth and working capital solutions so that companies can focus on driving their strategic plans forward.


We are proud of how entrepreneurs are rising to this challenge and are looking forward to continuing to help our clients through this unprecedented time.