Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Books are a lot cheaper than Bombs

Or so said Rabih Alameddine on KQED this morning, when discussing his latest novel "The Hakawati," and his effort to help the Friends of the Lebanese Public Libraries by driving donations of books. This seemed to me an apt metaphor for effective SaaS marketing strategy.

Books foment ideas that are spread virally. The ideas spread in cafes and coffee houses, more people read the book, and in time a culture will evolve from the ideas in the books. That is, if the books are good.

Last week, Mike Maples offered sound investing advice: don't invest in a SaaS company who's mission is viral but who sells traditionally (top-down) in an enterprise. Top-down doesn't work for a viral-pitch product -- users won't use. Top down sales approaches are bombs -- they can pave a way into a company, but they can't win the hearts and minds.

I'm talking to a lot of prospective employers now, and one of the key things I try to ascertain is whether the products are built to serve the user, and how. And if not, how quickly I'd be able to change that. For the enterprise workplace to be transformed, the user will have to win, and that is the real mission for the next half decade.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

This Me, not *that* Me!

If what you are is what you eat, this day it seems who you are depends on who you meet. Or which identity you point them to.

Yesterday, I was grabbing some coffee and an eggel at Hugo Cafe, and started talking to a woman who worked at a large SaaS company in San Francisco. Since it was a company I was interested in we talked a bit about their business model, and then I asked her if I could shoot her a note on LinkedIn. To which she replied, "How about Facebook? I prefer that, since it is the most up-to-date."


Friends of mine on Facebook get to see updated pictures of my kids, with no relevance to my business life. Colleagues on LinkedIn get mapped to my "professional" self, with links to my blog, etc. On Facebook she would get the wrong Me.

Last week at the Consumerization of Software event a colleague was lamenting how he toned down his Facebook self, since you never knew who from his business life would stumble across it. Drunk pictures: gone. Fun stuff: 1/2 gone. Oh well.

Another colleague has slowed his Twitter use, since he really wants multiple channels. One for work, one for play. One channel simply doesn't work for him, and it is too bothersome to create multiple users (requiring, among other things, multiple email addresses).

I started to use Twitter to set my status in one place, and broadcast it to various networks. That was great for a few weeks until I understood Twitter's power as a messaging platform. Now I realize that I want to have conversations in Twitter, some that make no sense to my Facebook Friends. Options: de-link Twitter from my Facebook status, or limit my tweets?

With the explosion of social sites, we are stuck in a quandary: how to manage our several (or many) online selves? We struggle with this, lacking the grace that our children will inevitably have, born in an age of transparency. Here is what we clearly need:
  • A way to define our various selves
  • A way to manage content and information for each self
  • A way to push the relevant information to the appropriate networks, sometimes to multiple accounts on a network
  • No duplication of data (no one has time for this)
Oh, I have an elegant solution, by the way. I haven't decided whether to talk about it or just build it. Can anyone point me to a solution that exists out there already?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Consumerization of Software

I spent a very pleasant afternoon at The Consumerization of Software conference held by SDForum and Accel Partners, exploring the thesis that enterprise software is becoming like consumer software. Can't disagree there.

Kevin Efrusy led us off on the Consumerization Thesis, which had some memorable points, including:
  • A customer needs to understand the value in less than 1 minute, and get the benefit in less than 1 hour, or you are toast
  • Ruthlessly limit scope, # of account touch points required, configuration options
  • Businesses should focus on metrics that reflect customer success
I particularly like the first one, since it is testable and it rings true.

There were some nice takeaways, particularly in a panel titled "A View on Software from Wall Street." Mike Maples (from Maples Investments), speculated that in a few years in addition to traditional financial metrics, SaaS companies will be judged on their viral coefficient. Mike defined this simply as "How much indirect sales does one traditional sale beget?" That is, if I sell $100 of software, how many additional dollars in future sales will come in with no action from me? This could be in the form of additional user licenses, add-on modules, or simply referrals to new customers with the initial customer as the sales person. If the coefficient > 1, sales will multiply naturally, if it is less than 1, the difference will need to be made up in Marketing $$.
  • "don't respond to RFPs, don't respond to large banks." (in response to when to customize to get into enterprise accounts)
  • "we had a voting system on the web for features. we never had a product manager."
  • OK, a bit strident, and I don't entirely agree with the second point. But I completely agree with the overarching theme of simplicity and focus, and that rang true throughout the afternoon.

    All in all, the consensus was clear: the enterprise is being consumerized. Thank goodness, I'm all for it. But maybe we should come up with a better term than consumerization. Anyone for C13N?

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Human Easter Eggs (or Last Blast from the Past)

    I found one more gem on my last day with BEA that I can't help but share. Dial back the clock to October 2005, when Plumtree was being acquired by BEA. BEA was figuring out what to call the products, which at the time were the "Plumtree Foundation," which was the base portal, and the "Plumtree Enterprise Web Suite," which included Collaboration, Analytics, and a bunch of other stuff.

    The Naming Police at BEA arrived at new names that some felt were counterintuitive and difficult to say:
    • AquaLogic Interaction (Plumtree Foundation) (aka ALI)
    • AquaLogic User Interaction (Plumtree Enterprise Web Suite) (aka ALUI)
    Since people kept asking what these new names meant, we elected to hold a contest to see who could write the best poem explaining the names. A writer on staff named Nate Loux, who I think of as Donald Barthelme in a cube, came up with my favorite submission, which I can only describe as brilliant. It is posted here.

    We've all put Easter Eggs in software -- what delights me is the easter eggs we stumble across in the workplace. I think that is why a lot of us are in software -- yeah, we're geeks, but it is really about learning the expect the unexpected in your everyday work environment. While it may not be obvious that the poem was an easter egg, it should be obvious that creating an environment that rewards creativity produces the unexpected, and the unexpected is what makes work fun. Which brings me back to the beginning, or the end I should say, of what was Plumtree and then BEA.