• How Software SHOULDN’T Be Sold


    I’m a member of the school of though that says that SaaS brings true value to a small business. As such it troubles me when I see people selling based primarily on price – it does them, and the industry, a disservice. I’ve posted about this previously, begging vendors to articulate the value of their apps.

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  • On Startups, and Influence, and Messaging


    I’ve spent over a month in the past three in the US, split between three different trips for different events, and over this time I’ve met with dozens of startups, many of who are from outside the US and are making their first tentative forays into the US scene. I’ve had conversations with a bunch […]

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  • There’s a Reason It’s Free – Get Over It…


    I’ve been mulling this post around in my head for quite some time now – an eight hour flight across the great Australian Desert seemed as good a time as any to finally put pen to paper (fingers to keys?) and write this post.

    We’ve been hearing much lately about privacy concerns with free services – hardly a day goes by that we’re not regaled with tales of the dastardly deeds of Facebook, Magnolia, Blippy or some other service that is free-to-customers.

    It seems people are carefully avoiding making the only distinction that makes any sense to me: that of paid vs free services. While I know it’s seriously uncool to question the cool kids who build applications with no idea of how monetization will occur, but I can’t resist. Yes, building an application in the cloud is cheaper/easier than in the old days. Yes, scaling an application is quick and easy. Yes, pre configured “building blocks” can be bought off the shelf.

    But having said all of that – this stuff still costs money. Quite simply – an application that is scaling in terms of users or load, and that has no source of dollar, is facing a complete disconnect. Sometimes some things are either purposely or accidentally omitted in that case.

    Some cases in point…

    People are surprised when Google (via Buzz) or Facebook socialize information about us that we didn’t think would be socialized. Go figure? Both these services have a business model that (at least in part) is fueled by the aggregation and dissemination of bulk information about users. While particular cases can be written off as mistakes – fundamentally these guys are about making information pervasive – don’t believe that YOUR information is excluded from this aim.

    Blippy, the somewhat bizarre site where people can link their purchases via credit card. Recently Blippy had a privacy issue where some people’s credit card became searchable and turned up on Google. It gives an interesting twist to the view of one of the founders of Blippy, Philip Kaplan who says:

    We think that many things used to be private only because there was no way to share them

    Interestingly enough in the Blippy case, recently as reported in the NY Times:

    Amazon actively blocked people from linking their Amazon accounts to the Blippy site, citing security concerns. Blippy recently offered a workaround, asking users to link their Gmail accounts, so it can skim their inboxes for Amazon receipts. Amazingly, Blippy says that thousands of users took this step.

    Don’t mistake – their is fundamentally a difference between a paid, and an unpaid application. There is fundamentally a difference between an application targeted for business users and one for the consumer market. Forget this differentiation at your peril.




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  • Messaging for Growth in a SaaS Business


    I posted recently about the visit I’d made to Xactly in San Jose. As well as spending time talking about the back office processes they’d used to enable them to grow by triple digits for several years running, I spoke with CEO Chris Cabrera about the challenges that his company has faced in marketing it’s product.

    Xactly works in an interesting space – they power Sales Performance Management, basically they power the systems that automate the administering, tracking, reporting and analyzing of sales performance. In other words they give functionality and visibility to the compensation of sales staff – think CRM, but for the post-sale, rather than pre-sale part of the cycle. It’s a pretty fresh space and Xactly has no real competitors.

    While this is a great position to be in, being the only kid on the block tend to raise a significant number of challenges. With no incumbents Xactly has had to educate the market place on the utility of the space firstly, and then secondly to sell their own product.

    They’ve done this through efficient means – Xactly spent $1.5 million on marketing last year – including a significant presence at salesforce’s DreamForce conference, they do no traditional advertising but heavily leverage Google Ad words to feed their sales funnel.

    It was interesting talking to Cabrera and getting his thoughts specifically on the issues they face selling a new solution via a new delivery channel – realistically they, and other similar SaaS vendors have had to leverage heavily the incredibly valuable work that salesforce.com has done in getting the concept of on-demand software visible in the general marketplace – in Xactly’s case this means that, at least to a certain extent, they can worry less about justifying on-demand software, and more on defining their particular market space.

    Another example of how small companies, more often than not stand on the shoulders of giants – and even more so a huge nod in the direction of Marc Benioff for the amazing work he, and salesforce generally, have done to normalize the concept of SaaS.

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  • I Choose the Cloud – Join Me


    Just in case you hadn’t noticed (and how on earth you hadn’t I’ll never know) – I’m passionate about the cloud. Fundamentally I believe it’s an enabling technology that allows real change to be driven to an entire class of consumers (be they public or private, business or consumer) who formerly didn’t have access to said services. It’s not about being dogmatic, it’s about leveraging technology to drive change.

    So yeah I’m excited about a new marketing site that a bunch of my friends from different business SaaS vendors have set up. Yes it’s pretty much just marketing, and no it’s not fundamentally changing anything – but it speaks to this ephemeral concept we all spend so much talking about.

    I choose the Cloud – you can too.

    Disclosure – one or other of the vendors involved has used my services for advice, consulting, research etc. I knew nothing about this initiative till a couple of days ago and I gain nothing from it but good vibes.

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  • Media Relations is an Ongoing Process. Sage Seems to Forget That.


    A year ago I wrote a post congratulating Sage on an increase in communications they’d had with me. As I said at the time: So I give Sage significant kudos for reaching out and contacting some of us, but…

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  • Another PR Fail – It Shouldn’t Be That Hard Guys


    Friend and fellow blogger Michael Krigsman has a very popular blog highlighting IT failures he comes up against, from time to time I seem to do the same for public relations failures – continuing with this theme I thought I’d recount the latest experience I had.

    A month ago I received an email from a PR company suggesting that I meet with a certain individual who seeming had very high credentials. The stated purpose of this meeting was to discuss a particular cloud purchasers council and in particular to discuss industry direction and trends that he saw affecting the market.

    I took an hour or so out of a busy schedule at a conference to be pitched by this individual about a new company he was setting up – the meeting was a debacle – he was in equal parts arrogant and boring and I came away knowing nothing substantive about the alleged buying council nor the new company. All I had was a feeling that I’d somehow been talking to the mob.

    Fast forward four weeks and I receive and almost duplicate email from a PR person within the same agency. Naturally I had a chuckle and emailed her back mentioning the previous contact.

    So, a couple of issues arising from this:

    Systems – CRM isn’t such a hard thing to do anymore, hell, there’s even a cloud vendor or two who provides economic CRM solutions! For a PR agency to have no tracing of media contact is, quite frankly, ridiculous. It makes them, and more importantly their clients, look amateur (not so much of an issue in this case)

    Abuse of an industry forum – I wonder how the “world’s leading industry association focused on improving business effectiveness for service providers and their suppliers” feels about their name and one of their forums being used as a shallow introduction to pitching a new business idea. I’ve lost all faith in this particular forum and, to a certain extent, the industry body itself.

    So there’s my rant for the day – terrible performance on the part of the agency, but even worse the ethics of the person they’re representing.

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  • Company.com – It’s All About Community


    I’m an advocate for small and medium businesses (SMBs) – coming from a SMB background I’m all to aware of the difficulties that those at the bottom of the foodchain experience. I’ve long been involved in business advisory roles and was part of a team that set up a SMB online community a couple of years ago – looking to leverage the offline conversations that SMBs have in an online way.

    So it was interesting to see that company.com recently launched. Company.com is a service that promises to “Discover ways to save money and grow your business.” It does so by aggregating together a bunch of different services that SMBs can purchase (legal, loams, collaboration, business incorporation etc etc) and bundles it up with both online guides and a forum to ask questions of the SMB community.


    As I said, having been involved in setting up a similar community, albeit in an independent and not-for-profit way, I’m all too aware that key to all of this is gaining some critical mass. Company.com is apparently looking to attracts users via some “cooperative agreements” that will launch later this year. While I’m not sure what those are, it’s interesting to note that the founder of company.com. Bill Wade, formerly served as Vice Chairman of Sage Payment Solutions which is a part of Sage software – one of the “big three” in SMB accounting software.

    While I have no knowledge of the route company.com is looking to take, I really believe that what they’re offering is an excellent way for a large software vendor to start to build a community around their product. Previously Sage tried to do something similar (if on a smaller scale) around their eventually-fated SageLive product. It’s also not a million miles from what Intuit could do with their Partner Platform (see disclosures here)

    For now company.com is a kick-ass domain name and a nice flashy site – the months ahead will tell us whether it can truly become a service of value for SMBs.

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  • Dropbox – Envisaging a Future Well Beyond Files


    I’ve been talking a lot recently to cloud storage, cloud synchronization and cloud backup vendors (all variations on a theme but they all have a different emphasis to what they do).

    Recently I had a couple of opportunities to talk with Dropbox, first with founder Drew Houston, and later with recently appointed SVP Marketing and Sales, Adam Gross.

    First some history, Dropbox, founded in 2007 out of the Y Combinator is a file sharing and synchronization product now backed by Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners. In its first seven months it grew impressively – expanding from 100000 users to 1 million. In the past seven months it’s continued its stellar rise, having north of 3 million users now.

    When I asked Houston to differentiate his product from the other offerings, he did so by making two comparisons:

    1. The big boys haven’t made a product that users really love
    2. Dropbox is (in his opinion) far simpler than the other startup offerings

    I took a deeper dive when talking to Gross, who parsed their product in terms of situational storage, and pointed out that the metric of importance to Dropbox is the number of devices per person – while today that stands at two for many people (PC and smartphone), Gross recounted his experience at this years CES show where almost every product on display had a network connection – it’s when this vision of hyper connectedness is realized that Dropbox sees itself really starting to change the way things happen.

    At face value, cloud storage is kind of.. boring. I asked Gross what takes a seven year SFDC veteran into a startup like Dropbox. Gross went on to describe his own personal opinion that in the future, successful online storage will be a sort of a mesh that contextualizes the data passing through is into something of relevance to any particular device. He talked of data that will be:

    ubiquitous and seamlessly available no matter what device is being used

    The holy grail then is a kind of semantic nirvana where. for example, I could view a recipe on my online storage platform and my refrigerator can automatically evaluate what ingredients I have and what I need to buy and then pass that information onto my smartphone or directly to an e-tailer. It’s this sort of vision that keeps the Dropbox crew inspired.

    Of course all that is decades (or at least a decade) away – until then Dropbox need to create a product that people actually want to use, and somehow figure out how to make some money out of people using it. To this end, beyond the aspirational discussion above, prospective users need to know how Dropbox works as a product. Well it works just fine – like other offerings of this type I’ve reviewed – Dropbox does a stellar job of just doing what it does in the background – it just works. Of course this is something of a barrier to uptake – Dropbox is remarkable quite simply becuase it is unremarkable – it’s the sort of product people forget about (until it isn’t available any more!)

    In terms of dollars, Dropbox uses a freemium approach. A 2GB account is free while it’s $10 and $20 for the step up to 50GB and 100GB respectively. As a comparison, Syncplicity, whilch also has a free 2GB account, is $15 for 50GB (it has to be said that Syncplicity is integrated with web apps such as Google docs).

    I have Dropbox and Syncplicity running side by side on my three laptops and one desktop – and they both worked fine. I also use SugarSync from time to time – you can’t say I don’t have all my bases covered! There were the usual hassles when folders got shifted – from time to time I’d have to perform a complete sync. Most of this has to do with user interference rather than a failing of the products per se.

    So who will “win”? Well luckily for all concerned this is a big space and is in no way a zero sum game. There’s plenty of room for all concerned to carve out a niche. Most important will be for the vendors to define exactly what their message is, stick to that message and execute well. Watch this space.

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