I’m sitting in a panel at SXSW watching Scott McMullan, Google Apps Partner Lead, Google Enterprise question a select group of representatives from companies creating applications for SMBs. The topic of this panel is Friends with Business Benefits: How Integrations Sell Apps. On the panel are people from FreshBooks, MailChimp, Formstack and BatchBlue. This is an especially interesting panel as just this morning Google announced that they are joining The Small Business Web (more on them here), the industry grouping of vendors building cloud applications for SMBs.

First some context – going on four years ago I moderated a panel with two of today’s participants, McMullan and Shah, at the Office 2.0 conference. At the time we talked extensively about the pain points for SMBs and the fact that deeply integrated applications were the key that would unlock the true value of Cloud Computing for SMBs.

In his post announcing the move, McMullan said that;

We are excited to join The Small Business Web, and look forward to collaboratively pushing the envelope with fellow vendors on making web apps as good as they can be as we move to a world that’s 100% web.

Over a year ago I had a conversation with McMullan and asked him about Google’s perspective on The Small Business Web. At the time he said that he was positive about the initiative, saying that “I know this group and we like what they stand for.” I got the feeling that he was an evangelist within Google for what TSBW was trying to achieve, but it’s taken him a year from that conversation, and fully three years since its foundation, to  convince the powers that be within Google to commit. There doesn’t seem to be any hidden reason for that – I know how busy McMullan is himself and can imagine it was just a case of it moving up his priority list. Either way they’re in now and their clout will help move things along for the group.

Anyway – getting back to the panel reflecting on the app store and directory marketplace, Shah expressed some exasperation that there are over 50 stores and directories currently – and he’s picking there to be 100 by the end of the year. He sees them as being successful for the vendors – he explained that the three free apps that FreshBooks have on their add-on store achieved their annual projection of sales in a matter of weeks.

Reflecting on the different app store models, Shah was very complementary of the Google apps marketplace approach given that it’s an easy deal fro companies to join – the requirements are fairly simple and utilize open standards for authentication and hence the development workload is minimized. While this might be a lovely situations for the companies, and especially for the project managers within the companies it struck me as being a little selfish to put these internal requirements before those of customers. I put this to the panel and the answers were illuminating.

Shah admitted that FreshBooks had done a poor job of their initial Google marketplace integration – initially it was little more than a directory listing, but they’ve since created a much richer experience. MuMullan agreed with this perspective however he did warn against the risks of building what he termed “the world best digital mousetrap”. Google could have created a marketplace with significantly more common data but McMullan believes that spending the next few years building the ecosystem up before making the data models richer is, in his view, a better approach.

It’s an approach which has some merits – while I’m impatient and would love to have a perfect solution immediately – the reality is that in a very nascent marketplace it’s important to let things percolate a little before consuming (bad metaphor but there you go). I’m happy to see things slowly progress in this space and looking forwards to an ever-increasing value propositions for Mom and Pop SMBs.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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