Category Archives: SaaS Go-to-Market

Where are the opportunities for new SaaS ventures?

Almost four years ago, I wrote a post that argues that SaaS will eventually win over on-premise software. At the time, Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, still argued that SaaS was a fad.

Now, in 2015, it’s clear that SaaS has won the “delivery”. What’s more, SaaS has also created new markets, penetrating customer segments for which an on-premise software solution was cost prohibitive in the past. Dozens if not hundreds of successful SaaS vendors are hitting the market and seem to be covering every single business need in every vertical.

Are there still opportunities for new SaaS ventures?

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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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Planning and Launching Software Products in an Agile Environment

This week, I had the opportunity to speak in the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference. The topic of the talk was Product Roadmap, Planning and Launch in an Agile Environment.

The talk was around approaches to modern product management, and specifically considerations due to agile methodologies and short product release cycles.

Fundamentally, old-style product management assumed software releases are done infrequently, something along the lines of this diagram:

 old-style-cycles

Whereas modern product cycles rely on shorter cycles, something along the lines of this diagram:

 modern-cycles

The assumption in modern approaches is that the road to good software is shorter when making smaller steps and frequent turns than when making large steps and more radical turns. (This is geometrically true in the diagrams…)

Old-style product cycles consisted of three main steps: planning (negotiation, prioritization, scheduling), development (design, coding, testing) and launch (alpha/beta, release, outbound marketing). The main question I was trying to tackle in the talk was how the corresponding activities map to product cycles with frequent releases.

On a side note, some organizations use old-style product cycles (infrequent software releases) while using “agile development” techniques internally (that is, frequent internal releases). While perhaps better than nothing at all, this approach misses—in my mind—much of the benefit in agile software development. In the end of the day, the biggest benefit is adapting to customer feedback, and without the software reaching real customers, value diminishes.

The areas I was trying to tackle in the talk were:

  • How does planning occur in an environment when there’s no defined period for planning (“beginning of the release”)? When the working assumption is that many of the details (and associated effort) will be revealed during the development process. And, how do roadmaps look in such an environment?
  • How do product launches occur in an environment when there’s no defined period for launch, but—instead—software is ready in chunks? How and when does customer feedback get incorporated into the cycle?
  • How does one integrate new approaches and opportunities brought about by agile development? Mostly, agile approaches facilitate experimentation through proof-of-concepts and such (with various variants such as MVP, MSP, and lean).

Here are some of the practices we’ve come to follow over the years:

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Product Planning in an Agile Environment – Talk @ Agile Practitioners 2013 Conference

In case you’re in the Tel Aviv area on Jan. 30, 2013, you’re most welcome to drop by the Agile Practitioners 2013 conference. I plan to deliver a talk titled Product Roadmap, Planning and Launch in an Agile Environment.

The talk will revolve around the fact that in an Agile environment, predictability is knowingly sacrificed for flexibility. Agile practitioners assume that what’s being development changes along the way, and that the true effort associated with each new development is only revealed during the development process. They  knowingly release new product functions in smaller chunks. And, they empower individuals and let them drive the process. This essentially makes traditional approaches for managing product roadmaps and launches obsolete.

I plan to cover some approaches and techniques in managing a product in an Agile environment, highlighting some examples from our experience at Webcollage, delivering a SaaS product to a large number of high-profile customers. The current plan is to touch various angles of the conflict, from planning (internal vs. external roadmaps, hard vs. soft commitments), conflict resolution (emergency and time-sensitive issues), release and rollout management (soft vs. official launches, gradual rollout, alpha/beta cycle and feedback management), as well as some additional areas as time allows (documentation).

 

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 Force.com 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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Taking a “Product Debt”? Be Ready to Pay Interest

Last week I attended a conference kindly organized by Outbrain, a start-up company located in Netanya, Israel. Outbrain’s VP R&D, Itai Hochman, described their engineering philosophy, which includes—among other things—avoiding “broken windows”. The Broken Windows Theory (popularized by the decline of crime in New York in the 1990’s) suggests that having broken windows in a neighborhood quickly escalates into more severe crime. The engineering analogy would be that unattended “issues” in the product would similarly result in more global deterioration of quality.

The broken windows metaphor is appealing. But, a metaphor from the economics world—that of a debt—may provide a few more tools to handle product gaps.

In many parts of the world, it is common to take loans to finance large purchases, such as a house or car. Interestingly, most people can typically pretty easily understand the concept of a loan, or debt. There’s the net cost of what you want to buy (say $100,000). Rather than paying the net cost upfront, one pays some down payment (say $20,000), and then pays back the remaining portion in installments over a period of time (say $2,000 monthly). The eventual sum paid incorporates some interest, which means that the overall price paid is higher than the net price. Most people get the concept, and can even handle the math with some basic calculators.

What’s interesting is that when creating software, a similar phenomenon occurs. And, as the recent economic meltdown has proven, taking more debt than one can afford can have a detrimental effect.

Here’s how the analogy works.

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