TWIS#20 iPad mania- how will it effect SaaS? Plus Cloud 2.0 and Freemium Summit

TWIS#20- This Week in SaaS

In this week’s TWIS:

  • iPad Mania (Sorry if you already hate the iPad)
  • Benioff on Cloud 2.0 (surely we must be over the hype cycle of cloud if it’s already being re-branded 2.0) Trough of disillusionment anyone?
  • The Video is now out of Fred Wilson’s seminal FOWA talk on the 10 Golden Principles of Successful web apps.
  • Freemium summit shenanigans: Gigaom, Lincoln, Rags, Matt and Tom with interesting perspectives on how to and not to do freemium plus actual figures from Xobni.
  • Amazing Clay Shirky post on the demise of Complex business models.
  • A vintage Kashflow vs Sage rant to follow up the brilliant Shirky thoughts and how it might apply to SaaS
  • In other news: Bessemer stacks up the in-house talent again, Twilio finally has a competitor, Amazon launches support for legacy storage systems, Mobile data to rise 40 fold over the next 5 years, Are multi-year Up-front payments right in SaaS and more excellent coverage on why Multi-tenancy matters in SaaS.

TWIS#20

Welcome to the new Monday edition of TWIS!

It’s somewhat predictable that the world has gone somewhat ga-ga over the iPad over the last few days, given the impact apple has over it’s fans. But this blog isn’t about consumer devices- the reason I keep covering it is because I think it’ll be a transformational device for SaaS- I’m sorry if you’re among the 50% of people who wish everyone would stop talking about it.

Here’s why:

  • It’s going to be incredibly user friendly- Great UX is going to open it up to new audiences
  • It’s cheap for a touchscreen device at $499.00
  • It’s got little or no storage- apps need to be run from the cloud

So to start-the UX has to deliver- CrunchGear thinks so:

I just grabbed my iPad, dock, and case and I’m ready to start living in the 21st Century. Say what you want, but the iPad is clearly a new way forward in terms of user interaction and portability. In fact, I regret that I don’t have a long haul flight to test this thing out on because this device may be the elusive missing link between full-bore laptop and underpowered netbook for which we’ve all been searching.

On the whole, the iPad is nothing revolutionary: if you know iPhone, you’ll know this thing. But Numbers, Pages, and Keynote, the office suite that isn’t Office, is amazing on the iPad and iBooks are already a big hit around our house. Thankfully, Apple includes an A.A. Milne Poohbook for the kiddies.

Hyperbole without experience is hype so I’m going to ruminate on this thing this week and report back shortly. However, if you’re in the market for a netbook, this may be your solution. The jury is still out on WiFi v. 3G/WiFi (I’m leaning 3G/WiFi) but it’s still a fascinating product.

Mike Arrington went on:

But one thing I have had the chance to do is test iPads at developers who’ve been willing to bend the rules a little. Well, actually, a lot. This is exactly what Apple didn’t want – bloggers and other outsiders to get access to and play with the devices.

But play I did. I’ve surfed the net on the iPad. I’ve played games on the iPad. And I’ve done email on the iPad. Yes, those iPads were chained to desks and in a bolted on steel case. And even so, the experience was stunning. It’s a nearly flawless device.

And the iPad beats even my most optimistic expectations. This is a new category of device. But it also will replace laptops for many people. It does basic computer stuff, like email and web surfing, very well. Applications load quickly and are very responsive – think iPhone 3GS with a 50% speed boost.

That’s what surprised me the most. The iPad isn’t just for couch computing when you want to look something up on Wikipedia or send a quick email. It’s a perfectly usable business device. And the form factor just happens to work far better for cramped places like airplanes than a normal laptop. I doubt I’ll ever open a laptop on a plane again after tomorrow.

I am easily able to type 50 words per minute on the large virtual keyboard. A physical keyboard is a nice add on when I’m in my office or hotel room, but it works just fine without it, too.

The iPad will put significant pressure on laptop sales, particularly second device laptops. And it will also have a devastating effect on single-use devices like the Kindle, unless the price of those devices drops substantially. I will quite happily read books on the iPad, and the battery really does last for up to ten hours.

And then there are the apps. Some of the iPads best uses are yet to be imagined. This is certainly an amazing game device and productivity tool. And I’ll happily consume massive amounts of music and video content on the iPad. Third party apps, and there are a ton of them coming, will make this even more useful.

I suspect I’ll rarely be away from this device. In fact it will make my phone far less important for non-calling uses. I may not have the iPad in my pocket with my phone, but it will certainly be in my bag over my shoulder. With a 3G data plan I’ll use it to read the news, look up movie times and reviews, send instant messages and emails, and lots of other things that I do with my phone. I’m not so sure I need to have the latest and greatest phone device any more, knowing that there’s an iPad within reach.

Interesting- you may know Mike’s been obsessed with tablet computing for some time, but even still- that’s a glowing review.

Krishnan back in January hit the nail on the head:

I am looking at it from a completely different perspective. As a heavy SaaS user, it excites me to have access to my applications from a mobile device that is reasonably bigger than a mobile phone and without the disadvantages of netbooks. iPhone changed the way I used business apps. Coupled with SaaS, my productivity has increased many-fold. Most of the SaaS vendors offer access through mobile phone in one form or another. Some like Mindmeister, Remember The Milk, etc. offer native iPhone applications whereas many others, who are fed up with the Apple approval process, use mobile web applications. In fact, SaaS providers like Google and Zoho (disclaimer: Zoho is the exclusive sponsor of this blog but this is my independent opinion) offer mobile web apps that almost mimics the users’ web experience.

However, my experience with using SaaS apps on iPhone left a lot to be desired. I found the iPhone screen to be too small to have a strain-free experience. I also wanted the keyboard to be a bit bigger to suit my fingers. At times, I also want better processing power to have a more seamless experience. With iPad, I get all of these and more. It is a perfect mobile companion for heavy SaaS users without the clunkiness associated with netbooks. In short, iPad is a great device for any SaaS junkie and, in some ways, magical.

So in terms of Apps, there are already over 3000 paid apps, with only 20% being free. That’s nearly triple the apps on the iPad in 3 days as are on Palm’s webOS in how many years? And the jailbreak is on the way.

Even Marc Benioff has gone Ga-Ga over the iPad:

The future of our industry now looks totally different than the past. It looks like a sheet of paper, and it’s called the iPad. It’s not about typing or clicking; it’s about touching. It’s not about text, or even animation, it’s about video. It’s not about a local disk, or even a desktop, it’s about the cloud. It’s not about pulling information; it’s about push. It’s not about repurposing old software, it’s about writing everything from scratch (because you want to take advantage of the awesome potential of the new computers and the new cloud—and because you have to reach this pinnacle). Finally, the industry is fun again.

Beyond the fluff, he makes a very serious point:

Last week I gave presentations to more than 60 CIOs in various meetings throughout America’s heartland. My message to them: We are moving from Cloud 1 to Cloud 2, and the iPad is the accelerator. Many of them haven’t even made it to Cloud 1—some are still on mainframes. They are working on MVS/CICS, or Lotus Notes, and they have never heard of Cocoa, or even that there is now HTML 5. This is unacceptable. The next generation is here. The iPad that shows us what now is really possible—and that we all need to go faster. Unfortunately, some CIOs would rather retire than go faster. (Emphasis Ed.)

It was on TechCrunch in late February that I first suggested that the enterprise software industry has to move forward and posted an article, “The Facebook Imperative.” In 1999, I was obsessed with the question, “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Amazon.com? And in 2010, the question evolved: “Why isn’t all enterprise software like Facebook?” This week we will have the answer to that question in our hands with the iPad. It’s a more productive, easier, and fun way to work and live. The iPad shows us the old world is no longer good enough. We’ll need new software with a new UI.

What’s really interesting is that Salesforce is repositioning themselves against much more modern software, recognising the shift in the industry. I don’t think there they’re yet, but for SaaS people I think it’s interesting to think about the comparisons- and what makes those companies he’s comparing himself against so special?  Network effects and Ecosystems. Check out Fred Wilson’s FOWA speech on the 10 Golden Principles of Succesful Web Apps for some detail:

The 10 Golden Principles of Successful Web Apps from Carsonified on Vimeo.

Enough iPad coverage! Except to say I want one 😉

Continuing on our coverage of Freemium- there have been a slew of posts since the Freemium Conference a couple of weeks ago- but I think the sentiment is slowly changing and people are understanding better what Freemium is and it was great to see coverage in mainstream tech media:

Don’t spend money on marketing, do offer flexibility and data exporting to eliminate buyers’ regret, make sure to capitalize on and value goodwill, and only charge for things that are hard to do.

Lincoln delivered what ended up being a somewhat contrarian perspective (shock horror!)

While I was the lone contrarian in the group, speaking on “Freemium and the Enterprise: Proceed with Caution” and warning those in niche B2B markets especially of the fact that Freemium is likely not even an option for you, all of the speakers had some form of caution for the audience. Universally they said Freemium is not for everyone and it is risky.

The part of my presentation that got the most tweets and I think the biggest reaction was was the back of the napkin math that I encourage those wanting to try Freemium to do. This starts on slide 14, but slide 16 really nails the point home. Everyone says Freemium is a numbers game; indeed, but if the numbers aren’t there to begin with, its a non-starter. Check it out.

The other big reaction was perhaps my giving big ups to Biggie Smalls and the complex concept of “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”. Overall, what a fun, energetic, and very receptive audience at the Freemium Summit.

Rags Srinivasan also posted some sense about people considering Freemium- five questions to ask before you launch and Cost accounting 101 for freemium startups. Both brilliant.

Matt Breznia posted an excellent deck based on real world experience- I like his sharing of real figures plus his insight that the publicly traded Freemium companies aim for a 1 in 10 premium customer as opposed to the 1-4% commonly talked about.

Tom Foremski posted his notes from the Emergence stable of CEO’s (too note like to reproduce here…)

Not directly on topic, but covering business models and innovation, plus probably the best post of last week was Clay Shirky’s take on the collapse of complex business models:

I gave a talk last year to a group of TV executives gathered for an annual conference. From the Q&A after, it was clear that for them, the question wasn’t whether the internet was going to alter their business, but about the mode and tempo of that alteration. Against that background, though, they were worried about a much more practical matter: When, they asked, would online video generate enough money to cover their current costs?

That kind of question comes up a lot. It’s a tough one to answer, not just because the answer is unlikely to make anybody happy, but because the premise is more important than the question itself.

There are two essential bits of background here. The first is that most TV is made by for-profit companies, and there are two ways to generate a profit: raise revenues above expenses, or cut expenses below revenues. The other is that, for many media business, that second option is unreachable.

Here’s why.

* * *

In 1988, Joseph Tainter wrote a chilling book called The Collapse of Complex Societies. Tainter looked at several societies that gradually arrived at a level of remarkable sophistication then suddenly collapsed: the Romans, the Lowlands Maya, the inhabitants of Chaco canyon. Every one of those groups had rich traditions, complex social structures, advanced technology, but despite their sophistication, they collapsed, impoverishing and scattering their citizens and leaving little but future archeological sites as evidence of previous greatness. Tainter asked himself whether there was some explanation common to these sudden dissolutions.

The answer he arrived at was that they hadn’t collapsed despite their cultural sophistication, they’d collapsed because of it. Subject to violent compression, Tainter’s story goes like this: a group of people, through a combination of social organization and environmental luck, finds itself with a surplus of resources. Managing this surplus makes society more complex—agriculture rewards mathematical skill, granaries require new forms of construction, and so on.

Early on, the marginal value of this complexity is positive—each additional bit of complexity more than pays for itself in improved output—but over time, the law of diminishing returns reduces the marginal value, until it disappears completely. At this point, any additional complexity is pure cost.

Tainter’s thesis is that when society’s elite members add one layer of bureaucracy or demand one tribute too many, they end up extracting all the value from their environment it is possible to extract and then some.

The ‘and them some’ is what causes the trouble. Complex societies collapse because, when some stress comes, those societies have become too inflexible to respond. In retrospect, this can seem mystifying. Why didn’t these societies just re-tool in less complex ways? The answer Tainter gives is the simplest one: When societies fail to respond to reduced circumstances through orderly downsizing, it isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they can’t.

In such systems, there is no way to make things a little bit simpler – the whole edifice becomes a huge, interlocking system not readily amenable to change. Tainter doesn’t regard the sudden decoherence of these societies as either a tragedy or a mistake—”[U]nder a situation of declining marginal returns collapse may be the most appropriate response”, to use his pitiless phrase. Furthermore, even when moderate adjustments could be made, they tend to be resisted, because any simplification discomfits elites.

When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification. more…

Does this remind you of legacy software businesses approach to transitioning to SaaS? It certainly does to me!

That also reminds me of this seminal post by SaaS accounting upstart Kashflow giving advice to juggernaut Sage on how to start a SaaS business properly:

My Tuppence Worth

As Sage seem to be soliciting opinions on their approach, here’s mine just in case anyone is still reading.

They seem to have two major problems:

  1. Software for the web bears no resemblance to software for the desktop, they have lots of experience with the latter, but none with the former. The skills are not transferable – that’s what doomed the Sage Live project. Software for the web is not in their DNA.
  2. SaaS is a business model as well as a software delivery model. That business model cannibalises the existing models of software companies like Sage. You can’t have the same people responsible for pushing forward a SaaS company and a old-style software company

To me the solution to both problems is pretty simple:

They need to get a new company up and running, owned and funded by Sage PLC (although I know a few VC’s who would happily pour money in)  – give it a big fat budget and some good project managers and let it run independently.

Then recruit developers that are real web developers, not desktop developers. These people can’t be from within Sage – they need to be people that know the web but aren’t tainted by exposure to old-school software houses, their methodologies and blinkered approach. They need to build an app from the ground up using pure web technologies – PHP, .Net, Ruby, whatever.

The new company should be able to access Sage’s expertise on the accounting side of things – but not make use of ANY of their existing technology, code,database structures or concepts of how software should work. That last bit is so important. I can understand how tempting it must be to re-use code and database structures to save time and money. But that would be like a cancer in the new product. Don’t do it!

I reckon they could easily put together something good enough to take to market within 6 months.

From then on, they can revive what I suspect was part of the Sage Live game plan: release the app sooner rather than later and improve it based on feedback from actual users. Improve and release again ad infinitum (a web-app is rarely finished) and price it very aggressively.

Once the product is working well, let them tap in to the marketing machine that is Sage PLC as well as having their own budgets for online marketing.

If done correctly the new business will very quickly start taking customers away from it’s parent company. But these customers were going to be tempted away anyway – better for Sage that they leave for a Sage-owned subsidiary than elsewhere.

Duane is always up for a fight 😉

In other news:

I hope you had a brilliant Easter weekend and are raring to go for this week!

Justin

jp@justinpirie.com

Also read...

Comments

  1. Interesting – for me I guess value in a group “should be” the ability to share information, ideas, best practices with my peers. Unfortunately it has never worked out that way for long as you point out. And frankly, the overhead involved in keeping the “noise” down is just too much most of the time. So – groups, forums, etc – eventually devolve to become noisy and you either ignore them or drop off.

    I have to admit the addition of lists has been one of the greatest things Twitter has done. I think of it as a filter system where I can quickly check information from sources “I” trust and want to hear from and “I” selected. It isn't that I don't value what may come from other sources in my follower pool. It is a way to focus on a limited subset and participate with them separately.

    I think subgroups “could” work this way to some extent, but still they lack some of the simple features that make the Twitter lists so valuable. I don't have to repost anything for my tweets to be in the stream on the lists I appear on. I don't have to do anything to appear on a list other than contribute value to the list owner. <<period>>.

    Without a lot more moderation than anyone has time for – I don't know how that simple idea coulld be translated to LinkedIn in its existing form. So, we're left with a “community culture” that needs to guide things and honestly – culture is a hard thing to cultivate. All I can imagine is that we keep posting things about the culture and promoting it. It won't end with this article I'm sure.

    Reply
  2. Interesting – for me I guess value in a group “should be” the ability to share information, ideas, best practices with my peers. Unfortunately it has never worked out that way for long as you point out. And frankly, the overhead involved in keeping the “noise” down is just too much most of the time. So – groups, forums, etc – eventually devolve to become noisy and you either ignore them or drop off.

    I have to admit the addition of lists has been one of the greatest things Twitter has done. I think of it as a filter system where I can quickly check information from sources “I” trust and want to hear from and “I” selected. It isn't that I don't value what may come from other sources in my follower pool. It is a way to focus on a limited subset and participate with them separately. Think of it like bookmarking or RSS subscriptions. It is a personal choice of what I need/want to be able to access efficiently.

    I think subgroups “could” work this way to some extent, but still they lack some of the simple features that make the Twitter lists so valuable. I don't have to repost anything for my tweets to be in the stream on the lists I appear on. I don't have to do anything to appear on a list other than contribute value to the list owner. <<period>>.

    Without a lot more moderation than anyone has time for – I don't know how that simple idea coulld be translated to LinkedIn in its existing form. So, we're left with a “community culture” that needs to guide things and honestly – culture is a hard thing to cultivate. All I can imagine is that we keep posting things about the culture and promoting it. It won't end with this article I'm sure.

    Reply
  3. Hmmm – you didn't mention Google's announcement of the “cloud OS” – Chrome which is supposed to be aimed – as their new browser is – at web-enabled (SaaS) applications. It is a big shot across the bow of MS which is still mired desktop legacy, fighting off players like Salesforce who encroach on their enterprise offerings, and trying to sell Azure without their traditional channel buy-in.

    We live in very interesting times as they say….

    Reply
  4. Agreed- my feed reader has gone mental with all the chrome OS posts but I need a couple of days to gestate on it I think. Web only operating systems…

    Reply
  5. the Chrome story is a little more than “web only.” As some one pointed out – it allows a level of hybrid approaches we have mainly seen in apps based on things like Adobe Flash and Flex. Meaning – some client-side app that does some of the compute specific to a user and saves backend cycles. There are also hybrids coming for enterprise apps that layer on external apps while doing the heavy lifting locally.

    When this is fully exploited, it will greatly increase the move to interapp communication and lessen the need for every app to “do it all in isolation” …. Mash ups by any other name….

    Reply
    • I completely agree- I'm still computing the implications for enterprise (to excuse the pun) – when all apps are run in the cloud- what that'll do to Microsoft's business…

      I guess the first requirement is fast, reliable internet, second apps in the cloud- although I'm guessing you can use TS/VNC if you needed access to a fat app. To me that sounds ideal for offices and then fuller OS's on laptops.

      Thinking about the compute requirements also could dent hardware refreshes but less processing means less power consumed too. Plus, Google has a certain trust factor- I was talking about it this evening and I suggested to someone that hates computers that they might try a Google OS and they were really positive about it- since Google is one of the few things they understand…

      Reply
    • Hey Mike

      This is an interesting perspective- no skype as yet on Chrome OS.

      Chrome OS only supports flash at the moment (no silverlight) and apparently skype won't run in flash… so no skype support on Chrome OS…

      hmmmm

      Reply
  6. Hey Mike

    This is an interesting perspective- no skype as yet on Chrome OS.

    Chrome OS only supports flash at the moment (no silverlight) and apparently skype won't run in flash… so no skype support on Chrome OS…

    hmmmm

    Reply
  7. Justin, good post, especially with all the links. I think we're all discovering that selling to ISVs is hard work and not for those without legs in terms of sustaining cashflow. Leave education to the bigger guys, except the bigger guys are almost all in the same boat of not knowing what they don't know. Is the answer that more ISVs will have to fail in their attempts to transition to SaaS before there will be a market for such consulting services, or ??? Walter Adamson @g2m http://xeesm.com/walter

    Reply
  8. Justin, good post, especially with all the links. I think we're all discovering that selling to ISVs is hard work and not for those without legs in terms of sustaining cashflow. Leave education to the bigger guys, except the bigger guys are almost all in the same boat of not knowing what they don't know. Is the answer that more ISVs will have to fail in their attempts to transition to SaaS before there will be a market for such consulting services, or ??? Walter Adamson @g2m http://xeesm.com/walter

    Reply
  9. Justin,
    great post – you cover a lot of topics. I truly think that we're seeing a sea change in how marketers think about buyers, driven by:
    – the change in the way buyers find information
    – the collapse in the difference between “brand promise” and “brand reality” driven by social media
    – the shift in many industries to recurring (or equivlent) revenue, rather than upfront, which necessitates a focus on account satisfaction/renewal/growth

    As this happens, it's driving a changing set of skills of marketers, from copy/creative skills to customer analysis, operations, and process – in order to understand buyers and deliver the right message at the right time.

    Great post, let's hope 2010 is the year we all think it will be.

    Steve

    Reply
  10. Hi Justin,
    Actually I was the one at the EuroCloud meeting that you couldn't identify. Whereas the Cloud term isn't well liked by the average CIO, the average SME business person “gets” the Cloud concept much more quickly than having to explain Software as a Service (or ASP or other alphabet soup). It's not perfect, and there is an argument to avoid the Cloud term too and just talk about online or web based solutions, but focus on the business benefits in simple terms – cheaper, more flexible, 24/7 acccess, removes IT headaches, faclitates collaboration etc. One of the continuing failiings of our industry is we are just too full of jargon when we sell this stuff.

    Reply
  11. Hi Justin,
    Actually I was the one at the EuroCloud meeting that you couldn't identify. Whereas the Cloud term isn't well liked by the average CIO, the average SME business person “gets” the Cloud concept much more quickly than having to explain Software as a Service (or ASP or other alphabet soup). It's not perfect, and there is an argument to avoid the Cloud term too and just talk about online or web based solutions, but focus on the business benefits in simple terms – cheaper, more flexible, 24/7 acccess, removes IT headaches, faclitates collaboration etc. One of the continuing failiings of our industry is we are just too full of jargon when we sell this stuff.

    Reply
    • Sean Ellis is superb- a blog well worth following…

      Just checked link traffic- 50% more clicks on Fridays than Mondays means people probably have more time to read stuff…

      Reply
  12. Justin, Thanks for another useful issue.

    I agree that, for most SaaS companies, controlling customer acquisition costs (CAC) and matching them to the lifetime revenue stream will be the key determinant of success. I would include “retention” in the equation (“CARC?”), in that companies typically cannot afford the cost to acquire customers more than once.

    The comment from Oracle SVP Anthony Lye that “Customers no longer trust vendors,” is disturbing. I would maintain that SaaS solution vendors unable to gain customers' “trust” are likely to fail. Vendors must convince prospective customers that they'll deliver the service and a stream of enhancements over the lifetime of the subscription. In other words, SaaS vendors are selling “promises,” not products. People typically don't believe – nor pay for – promises from people they don't trust. (I wrote more about trust and relationships here: http://saasmarketingstrategy.blogspot.com/2009/…)

    Reply
    • My Pleasure Peter- I'm just in the process of writing #5…

      I agree with you wholeheartedly about the importance of retention- that's why it has it's own measurement in the Bessemer Laws….

      Where it says “Customers don't trust vendors” shouldn't apply to SaaS vendors as their churn will be shocking and they'll be out of business very quickly. That rule hasn't applied in traditional software however….

      Cheers,

      Justin

      Reply
  13. Justin, Thanks for another useful issue.

    I agree that, for most SaaS companies, controlling customer acquisition costs (CAC) and matching them to the lifetime revenue stream will be the key determinant of success. I would include “retention” in the equation (“CARC?”), in that companies typically cannot afford the cost to acquire customers more than once.

    The comment from Oracle SVP Anthony Lye that “Customers no longer trust vendors,” is disturbing. I would maintain that SaaS solution vendors unable to gain customers' “trust” are likely to fail. Vendors must convince prospective customers that they'll deliver the service and a stream of enhancements over the lifetime of the subscription. In other words, SaaS vendors are selling “promises,” not products. People typically don't believe – nor pay for – promises from people they don't trust. (I wrote more about trust and relationships here: http://saasmarketingstrategy.blogspot.com/2009/…)

    Reply
  14. My Pleasure Peter- I'm just in the process of writing #5…

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about the importance of retention- that's why it has it's own measurement in the Bessemer Laws….

    Where it says “Customers don't trust vendors” shouldn't apply to SaaS vendors as their churn will be shocking and they'll be out of business very quickly. That rule hasn't applied in traditional software however….

    Cheers,

    Justin

    Reply
  15. Justin,

    Your “Startup Pyramid 2.0” is worth a longer discussion, perhaps in a future issue of TWIS.

    I'd agree that “Economics” deserves its own layer if it refers to a start-up's need to match costs to lifetime revenues. For SaaS companies, building a product that matches the product's capabilities with the market's needs is just the start. The more difficult challenge is delivering, marketing, and selling it for less than the revenue it will generate.

    Happy holidays to you as well,

    Peter

    Peter Cohen
    SaaS Marketing Strategy Advisors
    http://www.saasmarketingstrategy.com

    Reply
  16. Happy new year to you too, Justin. Your dedication to TWIS, even on New Year's Day, is impressive!

    The note on customer acquisition metrics used by Matt Breznia and Xobni is evidence that a company's engineers aren't only to found in the development group. Some have migrated over to marketing! In the more successful SaaS companies, I often see better connections between groups – marketing, sales, support, product management, development – and a greater understanding of each others' role in acquiring and retaining customers.

    Reply
  17. Much of what you are talking about here is customer experience satisfaction. Not only are the numbers important but finding out why the product is or is not selling is key. Monitoring the channels is important but at the end of the day what are customers expecting to find in your product. I think one big thing that we can take away from great market research as a SaaS vendor is our competition. What do they have what don't they have. And, for our target consumer which matters most.

    One thing I've never seen on a Web app which I think would be great if you are indeed the leader in the product line is a comparison chart against your vendors. Allow your user the transparency to see who you are competing with and why they should buy from you. You control the entire sale at that point, apples-to-apples.

    Reply
    • Yes- product / market fit is key. That pmarca post I mentioned midweek is inspirational- http://bit.ly/7FU5Tk if you haven't seen it.

      I have seen comparisons before- but it is a key takeaway from this post- you've got to help your customers understand where you're positioning your product. I saw this recently: http://bit.ly/6s8uRX comparing themselves against their competitors.

      Reply
  18. Justin thanks for mentioning GetApp.com. I agree that product management excellence is the most scarce resource and you have a lot to offer in this space. To any good SaaS company reading this comment: HIRE HIM!

    Reply
  19. Excellent interview and assessment from Lincoln Murphy. We risk a second dot com bubble if Freemium is the business model. And user organisations need to do a risk assessment in case an application they increasingly rely on starts to get flaky. Back-up strategy? Disaster recovery? PS. Is it just me experiencing capacity problems on Twitter this week?

    Reply
  20. Thanks for such an excellent interview!, I'm looking forward to reading the other blog posts on Freemium.

    My favourite quote: “Sure, now they have only half of the pie, but in the long run it will likely be a pie that actually gets out of the oven and makes some money!” — that one was completely priceless :-)

    Reply
  21. Great interview, important topic.

    Reflecting on this interview and the paper I sense that the 'sample set' of product startups must operate without substantial input from business end-users and buyers… Surely, the start-up's alpha and beta users can provide feedback not only on product features but also on questions of sales and marketing strategy.

    Reply
    • I agree- but I guess that's why they're buying Lincoln's talent…

      Personally, I'm a practitioner of Lean Startup and Customer Development methodologies which avert the need for these problems if done properly… If the product / market fit is good then you shouldn't have to give it away for free. Just like Marc Andressen calls it “market pull”.

      Reply
  22. Justin,

    I think you are spot on about the iPad affecting SaaS. I wrote a post about that this week http://bit.ly/doEd7x . I see the iPad and the upcoming Google Chrome OS tablet (rumored) as changing things dramatically. These device have less disk space than even a netbook and will take advantage of the cloud for applications and storage. This also helps us with all the devices we have everywhere. Why sync things, when you can just point to the cloud. This way you can use the device you need, when you need it. I forsee a lot of cool applications being served up through SaaS for these new tablets.

    Reply
    • Ron- great post!

      I wasn't aware of the Android tablet- thanks for giving me the heads up on that one…

      Talked about here: http://bit.ly/cINbU9

      Killed off??? :http://bit.ly/a9ZNki

      As I've said before, open beats closed every time and I can't wait for Google to bring out a tablet, especially if there as obsessed with the detail like they were on the nexus one. This brings the best of both worlds- attention to detail in the device and an open platform for innovation.

      It Makes No Business Sense Unless You Are Google: Oh wait! Google simply makes more money when more people go online, thanks to adsense. Whoa, what a coincidence! The only thing a web tablet would do is get people online.

      http://bit.ly/bKJrrS

      Thoughts?

      Reply
  23. I agree the “vision” of the iPad is in the right direction for device usability – but… This is first generation and we are missing a few things. First, it doesn't multitask – at all. Y0u can't receive email and takes notes during a meeting at the same time. Yes, there is push notification, but that isn't going to solve the basic problem that for most “knowledge workers” this is the equivalent of being disconnected – one app, one SaaS, one thing at a time.

    Second – as good as I expect the device “user experience” to be – I really don't believe most SaaS vendors have themselves reached an understanding of what an excellent online user experience means and what this type of device itself will enable. As we all know, this is just the tip of the iceburg – Goggle's aim is to enable their Chrome OS in tablets. In a lot of ways, Chrome OS is better suited to the types of tasks this environment will find a home in. I don't expect Apple to sit on its hands in this regard, but right now, the iPhone platform has some limitations that make it somewhat limited as a target device for SaaS. Limitations aren't bad though, as we all know, limitations spawn innovations quite well.

    Reply
    • Fundamentally I agree Mike- but what it represents is a major step forward for situational devices, just as the iPhone was for phones. Yes it lacks “critical” features, but yet I still love my iPhone and it does a better job for me than any phone EVER!

      I think we need to forget about it's shortcomings and focus on the value it'll be able to deliver to mobile workers and as a situational device. I certainly want one, if only to read blogs!

      JP

      Reply
    • Marc –

      I don't know exactly how much Plex is charging their customers, but it's not trivial. The basic idea is that if a customer wants a specific feature or function, Plex gives them a quote for it and then they decide if they want to pay for it or not. The interesting thing is that once the feature is done, it's available to all of their other customers as well (for no additional charge).

      It's a great model if you can get your customers to buy into it, and Plex clearly has. I don't think it would work in a broader market, but it does appear to work in their tight vertical and I can see why.

      Robert

      Reply
      • So to clarify- I think it clearly depends on your vertical, but it's a clever way to add functionality for no cost or a profit, while not forking your codebase (key to SaaS).

        By definition, not forking the code means the feature can be available to everyone if you so choose.

        There are however some pitfalls with this approach- it could feel like you're in the custom software business and lose focus on product / market fit if you're not careful.

        But if you're a small SaaS company, working in a tight vertical, design the new functionality carefully so to enhance your product/market fit, there is little downside to this approach, especially as the customer is tied in even more to your system…

        Reply
  24. Hi. This is Rick Chapman of Softletter, and I just thought I'd chime in here with a couple of observations.

    First, I'd like to thank Robert for his kind comments about SaaS University; we work hard to put on a very content filled event. Also, I'd like to remind readers of this blog that our early bird pricing for our events is $795; also, at every event, we give away to all the attendees a free copy of one our research reports and we charge for these. At Chicago every attendee received a copy of our massive SaaS Marketing Report, which breaks out 22 separate marketing activities as carried out by SaaS firms. We charge $449 for it. At Dallas, we gave away our direct sales compensation guide, which has a $400 price tag. These items are not loss leaders and are sold on a regular basis. Our events are designed to be very content rich and we think we're offering excellent value for the money.

    Also, we videotape the entire proceedings and make them available online to the attendees, so, for example while Robert wasn't able to see all of Ted's channel discussion at the event, he will be able to when the video is posted online.

    Now, as the issue of customer service. We have had speakers at past events discuss, specifically, SaaS customer service issues. For example, at Chicago, we had Matthew Gonnering of Widen address this topic specifically and in Atlanta and Boston Tom Appleton of DreamFactory.

    rick chapman
    http://www.softletter.com
    http://www.saasuniversity.com

    However, at Dallas, we decided to focus on the topic of understanding that your SaaS customer base needs to be thought of as a community of users based on the inherent nature of the SaaS model. Patrick's presentation went way beyond the issue of having customers pay for new features and discussed the community of users concept in greater detail.

    Once you understand the power of this concept (and implement it), you should also begin to think about how you provide customer support in different ways. For example, Patrick discussed how the Plex community has “taken over” the management of Plex's documentation and FAQs. Ultimately, your community becomes a highly self supporting, and self managing entity that a SaaS company truly “reports” to.

    Reply
  25. @justinpirie – correction – Citrix Online acquired Paglo and not Cisco.
    The blog post by Marc Benioff is an exact transcription of his Dreamforce speech – almost to the word. Chatter is an interesting spin. My personal belief – Professional collaboration is going to be more social, but I do not think feeds like Twitter are going to make much sense. But there is a tremendous opportunity for SaaS to be part of the professional conversations. How it evolves remains to be seen.
    Btw, Chatter is not a good name to use for professional conversations 😉

    Reply
    • Again- you're totally right and I'll correct it right away.

      I agree with you about chatter- I guess my point was Salesforce is the leader- and it's leading with network effects, so we should take note.

      Plus you're right- it's a rubbish name- almost as bad as the iPad 😉

      Reply
  26. I don't necessarily agree that you have to be able to sell direct over the web. If you look at the majority of the public SaaS companies that sell B2B, they enable you to have a free 30 day demo account but in order to buy they want you to talk with someone live. The web site serves as a critical lead gen engine to fuel direct sales motion.

    With that said, I agree with a lot in this post, especially the compensation issue. If you want channels to participate, I believe you need to give them a cut of the subscription business, not just in the first year but in subsequent years as well.

    Reply
    • You're right- and as I wrote that I wondered whether I'd be called out on that one… My example was a little bit wonky but I think the point remains valid for most people- public SaaS companies get away with it because they led the transition from Enterprise to SaaS and they had to have the salespeople. Now, they're tied into public company reporting and they can't possibly change those processes. I think the next generation of public SaaS companies will be different.

      Thinking about that point- what about Amazon and Google???

      As I said before, I think the public SaaS companies have trained some bad habits into everyone, just because they were able to spend so much money. They in particular are responsible for the “low TCO client-server application shoved through a browser” issues that instigated the change to SaaS but no longer works.

      Reply
  27. To pile on Lincoln's comment – a service-based channel that embeds the SaaS app in what they deliver is really a match made in heaven for a SaaS company. It takes real thinking to make it happen – but when that works, it becomes a leveraged model. The channel is then incented to both sell the SaaS application and to feed back what would make it even more beneficial to their service offering and their customers.

    On the other side, a pure sales channel play is very hard to make work. The incremental cash in a SaaS sale just doesn't have a lot of pull for a sales channel. Netsuite is trying to solve that problem by rewarding their SaaS sales channel in much the same way they do their normal licenses – but the problem comes with insuring the total lifetime value doesn't exceed the customer acquistion cost or you're bleeding cash everytime you acquire a cusstomer (as you point out). This can happen if the channel is selling but not to a profile that will actually get enough value to keep their subscription over the long run.

    Reply
    • Spot on Mike!

      I saw the Netsuite announcement after I posted this… That's a really interesting approach- my guess is that they're Customer Life Time Value is about 5 years and they win over the long term but are cash positive after about 14 months. Possibly worth a post on it's own…

      Reply
  28. disagree. People wrongly seems to put all SaaS offerings into the same bucket just because they are delivered from the cloud vs. purchased and installed on in-house servers. The truth is, all SaaS apps are NOT the same. some require professional services (integration, migration, customization, etc) and some don't. Those that do are particularly interesting to the channel. if its interesting, they'll invest in skills development and be proficient in selling it. Also, if that SaaS app integrates with an on-prem app that this VAR is also selling, you've got a winning Channel opportunity. Their differentiation in these cases is their professional services expertise.

    You compare the web with the channel as sales vehicles. I don't know why you'd do that. One has a salesperson and the other doesn't. You ask “How can we expect a channel to sell it when we can't get it sold on the Web?” I disagree with the premise of that question. Hence, the answer is simple. You can expect different results from the channels because they have salespeople, and the web doesn't.

    Reply
    • Kent

      You're right- some apps do require professional services, and for that there will always need to be people. But the newer, better designed apps require less and less of this- they automate and make intuitive what used to be delivered by pro services and only deliver high value adding pro services now.

      The problem I have with your assertion is that you work at an established vendor with a very established channel- which is not the case for most of the readers… You might be able to get this model to work but I can tell you from experience that most SaaS companies cant… SaaS companies shouldn't be told that they can move into that sort of position either… that's your competitive advantage and you're not going to give it up easily!

      On-prem / SaaS integration is less of an issue at the low end as it is at the high. In the middle the water is muddy at the moment but I think that will change as more apps get migrated to the cloud. Channel partners have to shift their focus from installing/ integrating/migrating to adding value. Focusing on that keeps them at the bottom of the value chain where they will die.

      So in answer to your last question- the web is the primary channel for 99% of SaaS companies. Because you were part of the first wave, selling low TCO software delivered through the browser, you've got used to selling like enterprise software and now you're owned by a public company, you're tied to their reporting and revenue expectations. This is not what the majority of SaaS companies can and should expect- most often their problem is having poor product/market fit and then expecting the channel to cover up their mistakes…

      Reply
      • Justin, There are a couple different areas of value-add oppty for partners. One is indeed integration/migration/customization. That may be limited with SaaS, agreed. I'm happy to report that at Cisco, our SaaS apps will require that hands-on work. Enterprise I/M, Email, to name a couple.
        The other value-add is in adding expertise to facilitate the business processes change that the app creates. This is the business consultant work rather than the Engineer work, and I think this is where we have agreement if I'm reading your comments correctly. I also think that this work is the most lucrative. As Technologies become more capable of drastic process change– and collaboration technologies do this– there will be growing opportunities to channel partners who can add the consultants to accelerate these changes. This is a huge step for the traditional channel partner.

        Its ALL about business outcomes. Those who can facilitate it– manufacturers and channel partners alike– will be the winners.

        Reply
        • I think we're definitely on the same page there- those who can transition away from being commodity providers to business value adders will win.

          I have to say I'm somewhat disappointed that you happily report your SaaS apps require that sort of work, as I think that'll put you and your partners at a disadvantage in the future, when this sort of function is automated.

          Reply
  29. Yep, SaaS is tough. Yep, building it thru the channel is a real challenge. However, the SaaS wave is too big to ignore and think that suddenly all of this software is going to be sold and supported by the developer of the app.
    At end of the day, contracts are messy. With SaaS, there's not a sku in sight– its all contracts, which means customization at the deal level….a mess as compared to a buy-for-9-sell-for-10-add-the-services-get-on-down-the-road model that comes with on premise, sku-based apps.

    The way I look at it, Service Providers have had channels forever, right? They might not be SaaS providers, but their XaaS offer is similar enough to take a page out of their channel playbook, which is primarily the page with the word “AGENCY” at the top. There are other ways to do it, mostly dependent on IT support mechanisms that nobody has built yet. IT development cycles, however, are long, and companies are assessing if channels will work, and hence if the IT investment is one worth making.
    SaaS and channels will work, because it has to. Last one to the finish line is a rotten egg.

    Reply
  30. I think Justin is dead on in these comments and they mirror our own experience at LeveragePoint. Of course mschvimmer is also correct, the lead is generated from the web but the sale is closed personnally. The comment by Michael Dunham about servies and SaaS being a good match also mirrors our experience, but with a twist. We believe in using our SaaS application as a channel to deliver services – the services flow through the application rather than being wrapped around it. In our case this means that service providers that build customer value models or who provide the data that drives them do so through our SaaS application. I feel that in the long-term this is the most powerful model.

    Reply
    • Yes and it's non-traditional channels that are benefiting most from that approach, not the VAR's and SI's who traditionally installed, migrated, customised and maintained. That value is disappearing and new channel partners who benefit from the core value of your product will help SaaS vendors win big.

      Reply
  31. Justin… great stuff, as always.

    I just wanted to comment on the excerpt from Sachin's post on “Scale Pricing with Customer Success.”

    Since B2B (Enterprise & SMB) SaaS is our specialty at Sixteen Ventures, we have a lot of experience in versioning, bundling, etc.. First, we work with our clients to ensure that they are solving a business problem for their target market. By doing that, we also help our clients realize that when they solve a real business problem, there is a real value put on that by the clients. This means it is very unlikely that SaaS vendors we work with are going to be in the game of competing on price… we don't want them to be the low-price leader.

    One of the main things we always tell our clients in an effort to ensure they are positioned in the minds of their target market correctly is to do what Sachin suggests; reward their growth and success. The SaaS vendor doesn't want to punish the client's growth. They don't want to give the client any reason not to continue to use the product as their business grows. In fact, by showing the client that they understand their business and the increasing complexities as they grow, the SaaS vendor further cements in the client's mind that they are the subject matter experts.

    So, while I agree in principal with what he said, we go a step further and that is to have our clients differentiate the pricing bundles or versions based on value-added features, services, etc. and to avoid “commodity” items like storage, CPU, or even users. Sometimes, for example, users are the key metric that is most aligned with the needs of the client, so it would be foolish to not use that, but often, metrics with little perceived value are used.

    By aligning the “step-up” between bundles or versions with the value perceived by the client, the SaaS vendor is in a great position and the client feels great about moving up. They don't feel forced or bullied which could cause them to churn out and churn is the bitter enemy of revenue. Also, being value-based allows vendors to charge more in many circumstances.

    Great stuff Justin…

    – Lincoln

    Reply
  32. Just had a great chat with Thomas, one of the founders of Onelogin- I'm really impressed with him and what he's achieved in such a short space of time. I was delighted to hear that they're well aware of the issues raised and they're firmly on the roadmap.

    Reply
  33. For an early stage enterprise SaaS company starting their channel strat early is important to build up sales and marketing capacity and insight into customer needs and value proposition.

    That's assuming that partnering with one or two companies early on can be called starting your channel strat. I think it can as it gives you the experience of working with partners, their expectations, necessary processes and responsibilities.

    And we partner with companies who are the trusted advisors of the clients. Accountants and lawyers in our case. As so many aspects of doing business is changing due to increased regulations (E.g. climate change) and better use of technology in typical business processes (E.g. RFID) businesses purchasing SaaS solutions in these spaces require the inclusion of prof services simply because they don't have the expertise in-house.

    Reply
  34. Justin,

    Great write up! It'll be interesting to see which legacy players will still be standing by 2020.

    In a piece I wrote on, “The End of IT 1.0 As We Know It Has Begun”, I arrived at similar conclusions. Lets see if they play out over this decade.

    For those with the resources, this is a great time to launch a new business using this paradigm shift. The legacy companies have been caught flat footed and they're still out to lunch!

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  35. Hey Justin, great reporting on the Google Marketplace. It is an interesting move and like Salesforce.com will help promote SaaS and further the mission of the cloud.

    As a B2B SaaS provider, the tough question I have is what size businesses are buying Google Apps? We target the Middle Market and I am not seeing much traction for the current cloud offerings from Google…I am not sure this marketplace will reach that audience.

    Don't you think it is targeted more at the SMB market?

    Jeff

    Reply
  36. Well done! And you´ve been picky. Great choice. I´ve been in Mimecast´s space before and they are clearly setting the pace. BTW, we´ve just launched a Q&A site dedicated to business apps, Cloud and SaaS: http://answers.getapp.com/. No doubt you´ll soon become an expert there 😉
    Very happy for you.
    Christophe

    Reply
  37. Justin,
    very thorough round up of the industry happenenings this week. I especially enjoyed the interview with Eric Domage on cloud security aspects. My eyes usually glaze over when the topic of security comes up because I find it very technical, but Eric put his points forward in a way that is easy to understand and make a lot of sense.

    Reply
  38. Interesting The examples show high CAC costs (referred to d.skoks) for an SaaS but what do you recommend doing if a startup’s CAC is high due to x reason a direct sales force for example? Aside from the above mentioned within the examples on how to drive CAC down or LTV upnnWhat would you or anyone following advise or strategically adjust to obtain the same objectives ( sales/rev etc) there needs to be some constructive comments around these half examples, for instance recommending not using a direct sales force is not really constructive because it might deter away from the sales/rev objectives, but a strategy, substitution to lower the CAC associated with the force could be something we could all discuss and benefit from

    Reply
    • Have you checked out TWIS#26?nn http://www.justinpirie.com/2010/05/twis26-this-could-change-your-life-understanding-sales-complexity-in-saas/ nnThe first question to ask- is there enough pain (value) to justify the high selling point of a direct sales force?nnIf there’s not- then you might need to reconsider… I’ve had this question posed so many times over the years- so I don’t wish to take assumptions based on your email- but they hint at the same underlying issues.nnSaaS is really an upside down business, distribution and user experience are much more important than the software. If you can’t nail those two- then you’re going to struggle to acquire customers…nnMarketing and Sales is almost more important than anything else

      Reply
  39. Interesting The examples show high CAC costs (referred to d.skoks) for an SaaS but what do you recommend doing if a startup’s CAC is high due to x reason a direct sales force for example? Aside from the above mentioned within the examples on how to drive CAC down or LTV up

    What would you or anyone following advise or strategically adjust to obtain the same objectives ( sales/rev etc) there needs to be some constructive comments around these half examples, for instance recommending not using a direct sales force is not really constructive because it might deter away from the sales/rev objectives, but a strategy, substitution to lower the CAC associated with the force could be something we could all discuss and benefit from

    Reply
    • Have you checked out TWIS#26?

      http://www.justinpirie.com/2010/05/twis26-this-could-change-your-life-understanding-sales-complexity-in-saas/

      The first question to ask- is there enough pain (value) to justify the high selling point of a direct sales force?

      If there’s not- then you might need to reconsider… I’ve had this question posed so many times over the years- so I don’t wish to take assumptions based on your email- but they hint at the same underlying issues.

      SaaS is really an upside down business, distribution and user experience are much more important than the software. If you can’t nail those two- then you’re going to struggle to acquire customers…

      Marketing and Sales is almost more important than anything else

      Reply
  40. Excellent blog Justin, very insightful. I think your 10 point plan is exactly what Partners should be doing. The GB Olympic committee did something similar about 6 years ago, taking someone else’s model (business plan/services/product – it applies across the board I think), in this case Australia’s, and put their own spin on it to offer their athletes (customers) a better chance of succeeding, fast forward 4 years to Beijing 2008 and GB surged past Australia in the Gold Medals department and now they look to GB as a model to follow despite it being an upgraded version of their own idea!nPartners can certainly retain their clients with a smart implementation of some or all of your points……. as you say, it’s not all doom and gloom!

    Reply
  41. Excellent blog Justin, very insightful. I think your 10 point plan is exactly what Partners should be doing. The GB Olympic committee did something similar about 6 years ago, taking someone else’s model (business plan/services/product – it applies across the board I think), in this case Australia’s, and put their own spin on it to offer their athletes (customers) a better chance of succeeding, fast forward 4 years to Beijing 2008 and GB surged past Australia in the Gold Medals department and now they look to GB as a model to follow despite it being an upgraded version of their own idea!
    Partners can certainly retain their clients with a smart implementation of some or all of your points……. as you say, it’s not all doom and gloom!

    Reply
  42. Justin, I think you’re on the right track… I recently wrote about this topic on my blog http://bit.ly/fAkVpf, Here’s the intro to that post:nnThe reseller channel generally does not work for SaaS companies, especially at the early stages (sub-$20M in revenue). This is driven by two things: n1. SaaS solutions generally don’t require an intermediary. They are easy to find (online), easy to deploy (nothing to deploy), and easy to use. This is obviously not the case with SaaS solutions that require a significant process change on the customer’s side, but more on that below.n2. SaaS license revenue stream in the first year (where the reseller needs to make the most of his money) is a fraction of what perpetual license products receive. So the reseller either has to settle for a fraction of the revenue he expects from his perpetual license vendors, or he needs to get a cut of subsequent year subscriptions (which would be a waste of your money).nnThe only way to engage an indirect channel in an SaaS delivery model is around the professional services that need to encompass your solution. In effect, the only indirect channel I’ve seen work for SaaS companies is the value-added service provider partner. This is where a partner delivers the business process re-engineering required to successfully implement your solution at a customer site. In that case, the service provider derives his revenue from the services billed directly to the customer… while deriving less revenue from the SaaS license margin you would provide on top of that.nn

    Reply
    • Great post Firas! I really like your thinking on channels.nnAs a counterpoint to your blog post, I would argue there are some cases where building a channel early can benefit, where I work we have a very successful channel model that started way before your suggested revenue target- but then the channel wanted to sell our type of solution. So the only exception to your rule is if the channel are actively seeking that product to sell, then I think it would be foolish to turn them away.nnHowever, I don’t think that’s a normal use case… The majority of SaaS apps are disruptive and are taking complexity away from the end user, an as such don’t need as many services to install and maintain. Being disruptive isn’t always a good thing if you want to build a channel…nnBut in essence you’re right, if you want a channel, you need to create what I call “channel pull”. Essentially you have to create direct demand in the marketplace before channel will start selling. If you don’t do that, the channel won’t sell anything…nnAnd your remarks on what it takes to make a successful channel work are absolutely spot on. We have a dedicated channel team supporting them.nnIn essence- from a SaaS vendor perspective, building a channel is not something that should be taken lightly. For me- “we’ll create a channel” should go in the same bucket as “it’ll go viral”…

      Reply
  43. Justin, I think you’re on the right track… I recently wrote about this topic on my blog http://bit.ly/fAkVpf, Here’s the intro to that post:

    The reseller channel generally does not work for SaaS companies, especially at the early stages (sub-$20M in revenue). This is driven by two things:
    1. SaaS solutions generally don’t require an intermediary. They are easy to find (online), easy to deploy (nothing to deploy), and easy to use. This is obviously not the case with SaaS solutions that require a significant process change on the customer’s side, but more on that below.
    2. SaaS license revenue stream in the first year (where the reseller needs to make the most of his money) is a fraction of what perpetual license products receive. So the reseller either has to settle for a fraction of the revenue he expects from his perpetual license vendors, or he needs to get a cut of subsequent year subscriptions (which would be a waste of your money).

    The only way to engage an indirect channel in an SaaS delivery model is around the professional services that need to encompass your solution. In effect, the only indirect channel I’ve seen work for SaaS companies is the value-added service provider partner. This is where a partner delivers the business process re-engineering required to successfully implement your solution at a customer site. In that case, the service provider derives his revenue from the services billed directly to the customer… while deriving less revenue from the SaaS license margin you would provide on top of that.

    Reply
    • Great post Firas! I really like your thinking on channels.

      As a counterpoint to your blog post, I would argue there are some cases where building a channel early can benefit, where I work we have a very successful channel model that started way before your suggested revenue target- but then the channel wanted to sell our type of solution. So the only exception to your rule is if the channel are actively seeking that product to sell, then I think it would be foolish to turn them away.

      However, I don’t think that’s a normal use case… The majority of SaaS apps are disruptive and are taking complexity away from the end user, an as such don’t need as many services to install and maintain. Being disruptive isn’t always a good thing if you want to build a channel…

      But in essence you’re right, if you want a channel, you need to create what I call “channel pull”. Essentially you have to create direct demand in the marketplace before channel will start selling. If you don’t do that, the channel won’t sell anything…

      And your remarks on what it takes to make a successful channel work are absolutely spot on. We have a dedicated channel team supporting them.

      In essence- from a SaaS vendor perspective, building a channel is not something that should be taken lightly. For me- “we’ll create a channel” should go in the same bucket as “it’ll go viral”…

      Reply
  44. I completely agree with Justin’s comment that “The good times, as we knew it in the IT channel are gone.” In fact, I would go so far as to say that the entire “channel” itself is in the process of becoming extinct. Most resellers were little more than order takers in the first place and in the world of SaaS there is little for them to do. The channel is just the latest link in the chain to be eliminated by the disintermediation of the Internet.

    Reply

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