Category Archives: Application Design

Are small businesses doomed to fail, or can SaaS help?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the US, only 44% of small businesses successfully make it through four years of operation. One reason is that because of their size, small businesses cannot master the skills that larger organizations have (such as marketing, sales, service and technology). So, it should not be a surprise that they have a hard time competing in the marketplace.

One of the areas that has been a weak spot for small businesses is the use of technology in general and software in particular.

From a software vendor standpoint, small businesses were traditionally overlooked as a target market. In fact, in the 1990’s, common wisdom was that successful software vendors should focus on large enterprises, where the money resides, and apply the direct sales model, with a $100K+ price tag. The wisdom at the time was that smaller price tags did not justify a direct sales force, and required indirect selling. Selling through resellers, however, was and still is hard to crack. It’s hard to get resellers to commit to sell a product before it gets traction. And even later, it’s hard to educate resellers to sell a product proficiently.

From a small business point of view, buying software is—simply put–not easy. How can a small business be expected to have the skills to evaluate new software? How can they be expected to master how to operate the software? How can they be expected to integrate it with other software? And, when it comes to on-premise software, how can they afford to deploy and manage the software?

But then SaaS came along.

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Why (Direct) Democracy is bad for Software Products

It seems that more and more software vendors rely on user feedback tools and forums (such as UserVoice, which I mentioned in a previous post). The thought, in many cases, is that user votes can drive the product development roadmap in a way that resembles democratic elections: the more users vote for a feature, the faster it gets addressed. Some tools even allocate a limited amount of tokens for users and let them distribute the tokens across feature requests.

This thought process quickly translates to communication with customers. For example, at Webcollage we recently evaluated a software product for our development organization. We quickly noticed that the product did not work in our environment, and contacted the vendor. The response we got was:

“This functionality is not supported in [Product Name] at the moment. However, you can add this suggestion on our forum at [URL].”

A few months ago we received a more annoying response from an otherwise respectable vendor, whose software (during our evaluation) did not work as expected in Internet Explorer 8:

“It looks as though we also do not recommend the use of Internet Explorer 8 and under with [Product Name] in general. If IE8 is a requirement for your development team(s), please be sure to comment on and vote up the issue I’ve linked above. Please let us know if you have any other questions.”

Such a response misses the mark in almost every possible way, from customer relationship management (if a customer is evaluating your software, do you really expect them to take the time to vote up bugs?) through product positioning and documentation (you either support Internet Explorer 8 or not; if you do—please fix issues; if you don’t, that’s fine—don’t include it in the list of supported browsers), product planning (are you really relying on frustrated customers to drive your browser support strategy?), through simple business sense (do you really count feedback from all customers in the same way, regardless of their level of use of your software, level of savvy and their business potential?).

It seems to me that this approach is derived from fundamental lack of understanding of democracy, and why direct democracy hasn’t survived.

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Care to be Knighted? Design Your Software Right!

Care to be Knighted?In case you’ve missed this monumental event, Apple designer Jonathan Ive was knighted last week by the Princess Royal at Buckingham Palace.

Indeed, Apple (with Jonathan Ive’s dominant participation) has revolutionized how consumer electronics products are designed. Starting with its color iMacs, which introduced color as an important buying criteria into the mainstream consumer electronics market, and later (as discussed ad nauseam) with its iPods, iPhone and iPad products, Apple has led the market with respect to how products are designed.

In the non-software world, product design has been acknowledged to be a vital part of product success. Industrial design has become a profession, driving product design in multiple industries. Furniture company IKEA has grown based on offering “highly designed” (and arguably, mediocre quality) furniture. Sodastream, a publicly traded $700m maker of home carbonation products, has started growing after putting focus on product design.

When it comes to software, however, there isn’t even a well-defined role, position, or step in the process that addresses the full spectrum of product design. Continue reading

7 Ways to Get First-Time Users to Love Your Web App

I regularly try out new web applications, and I am often amazed to see web applications that assume that a “short introduction video” will get users to understand what the product does and how to use it.

Sure, people love videos, and watch tons of funny cat videos. But, application tutorials aren’t funny cat videos, at least in most cases. For one thing, especially if you’re marketing a SaaS application to business users, it’s likely that users don’t even have headphones connected at their work space; or, similarly, that they doesn’t feel comfortable watching videos with their peers around. As likely, they may want to start using the application right away and may not want to take the time to watch an introduction video. But, most importantly, a video is just one tool in one’s toolbox, and getting users from point A (say, registered for a free trial) to point Z (they’re the guru of your product and help their peers use it) takes much more than a video.

Earlier this week, we at WebCollage have launched a new revision of our Content Publisher welcome pages, so I thought it may be a good opportunity to share the techniques we’ve come up with in terms of communicating our application functionality to first-time users.

I tried to outline 7 “tools” you can use to get first-time users to understand and hopefully like you web application. Here goes–

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Business Components of a SaaS Solution

Today, Google announced that its Google App Engine platform-as-a-service solution would be leaving Preview stage later this year.

The cloud computing concept has gained a lot of momentum in the last few years. Classification of the  solution space has somewhat focused on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which is typically associated with Amazon’s platform, and platform-as-a-service (PaaS), often associated with Salesforce and the aforementioned Google App Engine. In a previous post, I pointed to a short article that summarizes these terms.

A lot of debate has taken place around the economics of cloud computing, and around the advantages and disadvantages of the PaaS model. However, little discussion has taken place around additional (higher level; or: business) components that are needed to successfully run a SaaS business, in addition to the core infrastructure and the basic platform.

The diagram that follows is an outline of components that are part of the architecture of (almost) every SaaS business.

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Developing a SaaS product? Scrum is NOT for you.

As I had mentioned in a previous post, I believe that software-as-a-service vendors must adopt an agile development and release methodology to release software on a very frequent basis.

Interestingly, we at WebCollage have been recently hiring engineers to our Development Center in Tel Aviv (here’s a short promotion to our careers page). Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the people we interview have touched the Scrum development methodology in some way or form. Given the ubiquity of Scrum, it’s surprising how little discussion there is on why Scrum misses the mark when it comes to developing SaaS applications or web applications in general.

Like many software organizations, we had used Scrum in the past, and here’s why we feel it’s not the right tool for SaaS vendors.

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