One of the topics we debated today was building defensible market positions with software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies. SaaS companies typically don’t have many of the traditional barriers to entry like high development costs, high infrastructure costs, and slow time to market. As we proved earlier this summer, many companies can be launched in 90 days for $20,000 or less.
Certain SaaS companies like salesforce.com (proper spelling is with a lower case ‘s’) have built defensible market positions due to their proprietary AppExchange marketplace of hundreds of platform plug-ins. Salesforce.com, being one of the earliest and most vocal SaaS companies, required over $100 million in financing to establish their beachhead position and market dominance. They were the first SaaS company to go from $0 to $1 billion in recurring revenue.
How does a SaaS company answer the defensible market position question? I think the answer lies in explaining that this new generation of products isn’t about defensible positions but rather about first mover advantage and grabbing market share. The barriers to entry are so low that the most important task is to sign up as many customers as possible, while offering such a compelling solution that they won’t want to switch or their switching costs will be too high to warrant making a change. SaaS is about economies of scale with a multi-tenant architecture whereby more engineering time is spent on innovation and less on solving one-off customer issues.
The number of software companies that are going to succeed due to patents and significant networks effects is significantly smaller than in the past. Today, it is all about innovating quickly and taking market share.