Tech Spheres

Discussion of Web 2.0 Business Strategies (SaaS, PaaS, Strategy, Enterprise, Small Business, Flex)

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Intuit Partner Platform + Windows Azure = Win for Small Businesses

Posted by Alex Chriss on January 20, 2010

Super-excited to be announcing the relationship between Intuit and Microsoft to bring great apps to Small Business.  This is a huge step for IPP and real validation of our strategy and the effort our team has put in the past two years.  Can’t wait for what happens next!

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Google Fast Flip is Death to the Newspaper Industry

Posted by Alex Chriss on September 15, 2009

First off, I think Google Fast Flip is very cool and I’ll probably use it myself.  But after reading the press on it, I’ve been surprised that no one has connected the dots on what this means for Google and for the Newspaper industry.  Yes, Google is trying to solve for “Speed” and trying to “make the world a better place” (from the TechCrunch 50 video) but in all seriousness, they’re also a business trying to make big bets – and revolutionizing the newspaper industry is a big opportunity.  Here’s what I gleaned from their presentation:

Google fast flip

1)      The unit of news is now the article – not the newspaper – the source is almost irrelevant now – Google is the source! (not a bad thing, just a reality)

2)      One of the presenters said that Fast Flip learns from what you read – i.e. “the more you use it, the more it learns” – say hello to personalized news.  Why would I ever buy a newspaper again that is filled with stories I may or may not like?  Google learns what I like and can serve me a custom built newspaper, instantly.

3)      The “like” feature is begging to be connected to my social network.  Once I have a newspaper of stuff Google knows “I Like,” how about telling me what “my friends like?”

4)      They launched with a pilot group of newspapers, but the reality is, everyone will have to opt-in soon (or what, stop indexing their site?).  And the next step is probably to give Google the complete feeds of their articles – no real reason to click-through to the publishers site – that’s slow and clunky.  And since Google also owns the ads, now we’re talking about a completely new revenue model for news.

I really like this move by Google and think the newspaper industry is in need of a reset.  But there’s good and bad here.  Google is primed to be the delivery mechanism for all news information.  They are gathering tremendous amounts of personal information about your likes and dislikes – that I’m sure can help in their ad targeting and search businesses.

Google will also be the ones deciding what’s on the “front page” – should make for some interesting conflict of interest discussions.  Newspapers will likely be re-built as skeleton crews of reporters, pumping out individual stories in hopes of having it appear in Google.  Should be fun to watch this unfold over the next couple of years.

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Amazon Kindle – The New Bathrobe?

Posted by Alex Chriss on August 18, 2009

Last week, as I jammed another vanilla copy of USA today in my backpack to head toward SFO and a 6 hour flight home, I yearned for the sports section of the Boston Globe so I could read all the ugly analysis of why the Red Sox were sucking recently.  And then it hit me – why in the world hasn’t Amazon capitalized on the hotel market?  I’ve spent somewhere between 150-200 nights a year in hotels of varying classes in the past 3 years and besides the standards (bed, towels, tiny shampoo bottles) there are a couple of other items in almost every hotel:

kindle

  • A silly copy of USA today every morning.  Does anyone actually subscribe to this newspaper or have they just cornered the Hotel market?
  • A bathrobe, hanging in the closet, with a sign that says something like: “Feel free to keep this robe…and we will charge you some ridiculous fee to your credit card on file.”

Hotel’s have lots of travelers and with lots of payment information and lots of free time – seems like a captive audience.  So, if I’m Amazon, I go to all the major hotel chains, and cut them a deep deep discount  that looks something like this:

  1. Bulk orders of tens of thousands of kindles (one for each room) pre-loaded with the top 25 bestsellers and every major newspaper in the country – all at some deep discount – say $50/unit.
  2. The hotel can now cancel their subscriptions to USA today (even though I’m sure that’s discounted as well) and likely break even within a year
  3. The hotel puts a tag on each Kindle telling the hotel guest that the device is theirs to keep, and the hotel will just charge a discounted rate (maybe 10%) off the retail price to their room.  (bonus if they can bring them a new device to their room if they choose to purchase)

Winner: Amazon – They get their device in the hands of the target audience – travelers (especially of the business variety) without having to go into retail stores.  Now when the holidays come around, they can make an informed decision or maybe they get hooked right then and there and get 5 more people excited on the plane ride home.

Winner: Hotel – Better service to their guests, likely saving money (and the earth) on disposable newspapers no one reads, and some additional revenue from the sale of devices.

Winner: Guests – Can now access their local newspapers and/or books, try new technology, and walk away with a device at a discount if they choose to.

Looks like there are a couple of smaller hotels trying this out, but if I’m running Amazon biz dev, I’m sitting with Bill Marriott talking bathrobes and bulk orders.

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Federated Applications on Intuit Partner Platform

Posted by Alex Chriss on June 3, 2009

Today, we are pleased to announce the release of “Federated Applications” on the Intuit Partner Platform. It’s been a blast to work with our Rock-Star team to deliver this and I want to personally welcome our five new developers, VerticalResponseDimDimRyppleSetster, and ExpenseWare, that have gone through federation already.  It’s always scary going first, but these folks have been great partners and I look forward to their awesome success!  

Here is some more information on the details of federation and how you as a developer can get started.

(Originally posted)

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I want to be an “uber-lemming”

Posted by Alex Chriss on May 21, 2009

This morning I was telling Alex Barnett how much I was loving using Bit.ly to track links that I post to my twitter feed – seeing in real-time the users following the links. Wicked cool!

 And Alex said, “Oh yeah, you got 500 clicks on the Intuit Green link yesterday.”  WHAT!?! How did he know?  I hadn’t realized that you could see the traffic of other bit.ly url’s.  So after doing a little digging and reading James Governor and Marshall Kirkpatrick’s thoughts on “Twitter Crowns Bit.ly As The King of Short Links; Here’s What It Means” – I’m sold.

lemmings1

I want to be an uber-lemming!  What does that mean?  Well, I want to be able to opt in to a twitter or rss feed that sends me the bit.ly link to any link that surpasses my threshold of lemmingness (say 5,000 clicks).  I’ll never be out of the know again!  I’m guaranteed to be within the first few thousand people to know about the next Susan Boyle or whether Dollhouse got picked up for another season, or a major earthquake somewhere in the world.  Proactive trend management, or a wanna-be-lemming.  Make it so Bit.ly and you’ll rock even more! 

p.s. please make it easy for me to then re-tweet things I find particularly interesting so I can foster other fans/lemmings!

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Dear Tweetdeck, Please integrate RSS feeds!

Posted by Alex Chriss on March 22, 2009

I love Tweetdeck – it’s open all day on my laptop and when I’m not mobile it’s the central place I follow friends, co-workers, news, etc.  The one downside to all of my Tweetdeck use, is that I’m spending less time in my Google Reader, reading the blogs that I subscribe too.  

I really miss those blogs!  Since Tweetdeck seems to be a great aggregator of most of my information flow (everything but email) it seems to me that having a column dedicated to my RSS feeds would be ideal.   

So…Wonderful gods at Tweetdeck, since you’re all about consolidation/integration (I see the new facebook stuff – very cool!) my request is that you add a column for the headlines from my google reader.  I know I could probably do this myself by following the bloggers who tweet, but it won’t be concise.  I want to import my OPML file and have you reserve one of my columns for a very simple list of new posts from the blogs that I follow.  That’s all – a super-simple way to stay in tweetdeck and get my blog fix. 

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Five Ways to ‘Rock it Out’ Through a Downturn

Posted by Alex Chriss on February 3, 2009

Inspired by Alex Barnett’s list of 7 Tips to a Successful Landing at a Large Company, I decided to make my own list (lists are soooo in!)  So, I put down my thoughts on 5 ways to manage through a tough economy. 

Everyone is hurting – period.  So if that’s the case, then the companies that can successfully navigate these rocky times can  gain significant market share, establish themselves for the long-term, and come out on top.  I see this time as a huge opportunity.  So, here are some thoughts on how to be successful:

 1) Every person counts – a lot!

Each person in your company or team is more important than ever:  There is lots of great advice about spending, but the reality is, it’s people that make things happen and when money is tight, they can make the difference between success and failure.  Retain your rock stars. If you can afford to, hire more rock stars – there are plenty available right now for the right opportunity.  I’ve been overwhelmed that within the past month, we’ve been able to bring on-board Raghavan “Rags” Srinivas  and Tara Hunt.  These are two folks that can absolutely accelerate the pace of our development and bring experience you can’t pay for any other way. Rock stars can do amazing things – and likewise, non-rock stars can drag an entire team down.  Make sure each person is contributing great results to the team. 

 

2) Partnerships are critical, but require cooperation and mutual dedication:

I spend much of my day thinking about potential strategic partnerships – and frankly there are TON’s out there.  Plenty of opportunity to take 1+1 and make 48.  Here’s the problem….most conversations go something like this:

Wanna partner?

Yeah – no brainer!

Cool – you got resources?

No, you?

No.

Hmm… 

So here’s my advice…

 -Prioritize resources for the BEST partnership opportunities out there; you can’t afford to do many, but you can’t afford not to do the best ones…BUT…

 -Only if there is mutual dedication.  Boss Bill’s guide to great partnerships is even more important when resources are tight:

As Bill might say (highly paraphrased)…”Great partnerships happen when”:

                -Both parties win

                -Both parties are excited about the partnership

                -Both parties are invested in making is successful 

Simple, but true. 

3) It’s not sympathy, or empathy – it’s integrity:

 Your customers and partners are hurting too – it’s easy to be sympathetic and if you’re hurting too, it’s even easier to be empathetic.  But this is business – stuff has to get done.  Pity parties are for losers – Your customers want to know how you’re going to make their lives better.  So tell them – and be open and honest – Just as partnerships require mutual dedication to succeed, customers require trust to commit and grow.  Maintain integrity in all facets of your business at all costs and you’ll foster customers for life. 

4) Be the underdog:

I don’t know about you, but I always root for the underdog.  They’re not supposed to win – they’re facing incredible odds – how could they possibly pull it off? 

Underdogs are scrappy, tough, they turn non-believers into rabid fans.  Pick your favorite example – Rocky, Rudy, Hickory, sweep-the-leg, whatever, and think like the underdog.  And what makes the underdog so lovable?  They know that they are the underdog and their only hope for success is to out-work, out-think, out-perform everyone else.  It’s their only chance – they have to flat out out-execute everyone else.   

News flash – you are either hurting or at risk of hurting very soon – get your team’s thinking now about how to out-execute everyone else and brace yourself for the cool shower of success. (Mmm…sticky) 

5) Focus, Focus, Focus:

If you have a strategy you believe in – focus on that strategy and eliminate all the other noise.  Be creative in execution of your strategy, but now is not the time to be trying too many new directions.  You likely don’t have the resources to follow through to completion.   So buckle-down, focus on your core strategic priorities and out-execute everyone else – The opportunities are there – they just take work and focus.

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Are we screwing up Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)? How to increase adoption of SaaS Apps

Posted by Alex Chriss on January 20, 2009

I was at a Small Business conference in September looking to learn from owners of SMB’s.  At lunch, the conversation came around to who was using software as a service (SaaS) to run parts of their business.  I leaned forward, eager to hear how SaaS had revolutionized each of these companies, only to be completely blown away with disappointment.  Not only had SaaS offerings not taken over the front and back office of each of these small businesses, but the conversation actually turned to a comparison between SaaS and Betamax – yes – software-as-a-service was being called a “fad.” 

So I started asking questions – trying to unlock the secrets that could help us gain an advantage in the SaaS and PaaS game and create massive adoption.  But other than security fears, there were no real concrete dissentions.  They loved the pay as you go subscription of most SaaS offerings, they loved the enhanced collaboration and the lower IT & infrastructure costs.  They were very excited about the constant upgrades and 24/7 reliability.  In fact, they loved most everything we think about when we think about SaaS – BUT – there was minimal adoption. 

Then one of the Small Business owners blurted out, “It may be silly, but mentally, it’s just weird to think about running my customer service program from the same thing I check ESPN.com on.”  BINGO – That’s when it hit me – What if we’ve been doing SaaS wrong this whole time?  What if all of us early adopters who like the thrill of going from 0 to 100 in 3.2 seconds and enjoy the risk of catastrophic failure, forgot to look back and pave the road for the real people who matter – the businesses who generate real revenue and employ real people and can’t afford catastrophic failure? 

When Benioff championed “No Software,” I think we screwed up a little.  What he should have said was “Better Software”.  Software isn’t the problem – we just interpreted the steps to the future poorly.  What we really needed to develop was “connected software.”  Applications running within the browser are awesome – but maybe they’re SaaS 2.0 – In our excitement, we forgot to deliver SaaS 1.0 – Desktop applications that are connected to the web and are sold as a service. 

Most businesses use desktop apps today.  They’re comfortable with the UI and the installation process and even the registration process.  What if we built the next generation of SaaS apps as  “desktop connected” apps with tools like Adobe Air, that people can click on and run locally, but still leverage the benefits of “the cloud”?  I’m betting we’ll see more rapid adoption of “SaaS” offerings and pave that road to browser based apps.  Consumer apps like Facebook will lead the mental charge towards the browser, but we need that suite of desktop connected apps that moves businesses into the SaaS/service/cloud mindset and away from traditional software.  

I’d like to eliminate the installed app too – but maybe we need to walk before we can zoom.  If we don’t bring the masses along with us, it’s going to be pretty lonely up in the clouds.

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Is SaaS Broken? Fixing the Rising Costs of SaaS Sales

Posted by Alex Chriss on December 29, 2008

There have been a couple of articles recently bemoaning the increasing COGS of SaaS solutions and questioning if this is the downfall of SaaS. Evangelos Simoudis of Trident Capital warns against rising sales costs and a move to field sales and Jeff Kaplan of ThinkIT Services, warns against VC’s getting cold feet.

So, is the SaaS model too good to be true?  Sort of!  

Software as a service is a phenomenal business model, but it’s not foolproof.  Luckily, it’s not rocket science either.  Why are COGS increasing?  For the same reason they increase in traditional ISV’s – there’s an imbalance between Sales & Marketing – that MUST be corrected.  Look at the breakdown:

 Traditional ISV’s: Marketing buys targeted lists and generates leads through targeted campaigns (trade shows, Direct mail, etc.)  Sales is broken into two segments: 1) inside sales: low cost “churn & burn” team dedicated to qualifying out the targeted list and passing the “qualified leads” to the outside team.  2) Expensive outside team dedicated to closing business.  

Successful ISV sales & marketing teams are well oiled machines.  They know ahead of time when they need to open the funnel and they know when the quality of the leads are going down.  Each step of the pipeline is measured and monitored and has an OWNER that is accountable to a number. 

Early SaaS Players: Simple apps with simple concepts that can be adopted at low costs by early adopters – i.e. Constant Contact or Vertical Response.  The concept of e-mail marketing (as an example) is pretty simple and the apps are very simple and very powerful, so getting up and running is easy.  Customers can see value within hours of “trying” – a sales team is not nearly as important as good customer support.  Marketing’s job is to drive as many targeted eyeballs at the lowest cost possible.  Easy and fun Saas model that makes VC’s silly happy. 

New SaaS Players:  Here, the apps are getting more expensive and more complex.  There is a need for a “solution sales expert” to help explain the value proposition – and here is where the model breaks down.  Marketing drives leads via SEM with “targeted keywords.”  Inside sales is inundated with huge quantities of “targeted” leads that are not really targeted and not really qualified.  The sales teams struggle to qualify the leads because the old rules don’t apply anymore.  Everyone can afford a free trial and most people can afford the monthly rate (at least for a little while), so no one gets qualified out.  Everyone is a potential customer!  With no focus for sales or marketing, conversion rates plummet and companies have to start discounting deeply to drive sales.  

The move to an outside sales team is not going to solve this.  SaaS solutions can be sold very well with a high quality inside sales team, but they have to be ruthless about qualification.  And marketing has to be held accountable for lead quality – i.e. just because they clicked on your generic keywords does not make them a good lead! 

The Solution:  Two trends that will lower COGS for SaaS players and bring profitability to new SaaS players: 

1)      Enterprise sales: High quality marketing & inside sales teams re-learning how to qualify leads in a SaaS world.  Expect more content before registration to whet your appetite and a more onerous process once you’ve decided to “try”.  (i.e. lengthy signup forms, credit card before “free trial”, phone call activation, etc.)  SaaS vendors have to become ruthless qualifiers to figure out who to spend time with to raise conversion %. 

2)      Small & Medium businesses: Expect consolidation of marketing platforms.  It’s just too expensive to try and reach a fragmented audience via SEM, so we will see an emergence of app marketplaces (i.e. what we’re building at Intuit).  The SaaS offerings themselves will need to be drop dead easy to get up and running, but if the vendor can dramatically cut marketing costs, they can focus on conversion and customer support.

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5 “sure thing” Technology Predictions for 2009 (sure to be wrong!)

Posted by Alex Chriss on December 24, 2008

1)      Massive consolidation of technology startups, acquisitions galore – VC funding becomes incredibly selective and lots of solid technology startups, with no paying customers and revenue streams, turn to acquisition as an exit strategy.  Similar to mid-1999, some of the big players, go on a shopping spree – unlike ’99, the valuation are quite reasonable. 

2)      Twitter explodes…in a good wayTwitter is on the verge of insane growth.  Personal blogging slows considerably as people meld blogging and social networking  and simply turn to Twitter.  They break 50 million users in 2009 and become THE place for corporate brands to maintain their reputations.  Funds get pulled out of Second-life (and banner ads too) as companies staff “twitter-watchers” to make sure they are on top of any feedback (positive or negative).  The race for the best twitter apps continue.

 3)      The mobile industry is going to be boring – Not that stuff won’t happen, but nothing “major” is going to rock the industry (i.e. iPhone).  There will be good advances in technology and finally a shakedown towards development standards.  There will be more cool iphone apps but for the most part, the iphone won’t take over the world and app developers can’t monetize other business mobile apps, so 2009 will be more about foundation building than breathtaking announcements.

 4)      Adobe Air apps rock the world Tweetdeck is just the start.  As people get used to “conveniently connected” desktop apps, developers will take Air to the next level and build some really stunning and highly distributed apps. 

5)      Traditional Small Businesses move to SaaS in droves – The typical small business is still pretty old-school – Running their business on some combination of E-mail, QuickBooks and spreadsheets.  But SaaS costs are coming down and the technology is getting much more interesting.  2009 holds employees demanding on-line payroll, customers who are on twitter and need a response, vendors who don’t want to fax you documents – there’s nowhere to hide.  This is the year the average small business jumps two feet into technology and developers will be there to respond – integrated data, drop-dead simple apps, solid value…We’re going to see SMB SaaS adoption skyrocket.

Thoughts?  What else is SURE to happen in 2009?

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