35 SaaS Marketing Products @ 1 Startup

Yesterday I was talking to the head of marketing at a fast-growing, <100 person SaaS startup. We were talking about the modern marketing stack and he mentioned that they pay for 35 different SaaS products. Yes, 35 different marketing apps at one small business. Some of the app categories included marketing automation, social media management, A/B testing, SEO analytics, etc.

Here are a few questions that come to mind:

  • Is there an upper limit to how many marketing apps a small business will use?
  • When does app fatigue set in?
  • How many are apps require daily work vs ones that are set it and forget it?
  • How is reporting done across so many apps?

SaaS is unique in that once the business has $500,000 in recurring revenue, it’s hard to kill. Thus, there’s a huge cottage industry of SaaS marketing apps that provide value. It’ll be interesting to watch the industry over time and see how it plays out. My prediction: there’s no upper limit of marketing apps and we’ll keep seeing more and more.

What else? What are some more thoughts on the idea that there are 35 SaaS marketing products at one small business?

Platforms and Microservices

Steve Yegge has an epic rant on Amazon being a poor place to work but more brilliant than Google when it comes to innovation at platform scale from 2011. David Skok recently published a post on his blog titled Microservices Essentials for Executives: The Key to High Velocity Software Development. The idea is that tech companies start out building their product as one large, monolithic system because it’s simpler and faster. Then, as the startup achieves greater levels of success, innovation slows down considerably even though more and more people are added to the product team. What gives?

The larger the product, the harder it is to make changes to it due to all the dependencies. Amazon was the first major technology company to realize that Internet scale, and it’s greater levels of complexity, requires a new way of building large-scale systems: microservices. Microservices are simply smaller, self-sufficient special purpose products that form a platform (e.g. tiny apps that are used to make a big app). Amazon went further and built Amazon Web Services (AWS) to make the backend of these microservices even easier to manage and scale, and now AWS is one of the fastest products to $10 billion in annual revenue, ever.

Tech entrepreneurs need to understand the benefits of microservices and start planning them once they hit the growth stage, but not before. All major platforms going forward are going to have some form of microservices underpinning them.

What else? What are some more thoughts on platforms and microservices?

Account-Based Marketing for Dummies

Tonight Terminus launched their new book Account-Based Marketing for Dummies (disclosure: I’m an investor). From the publisher:

This practical guide takes the intimidation out of account-based marketing in today’s highly digitized world. You’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to increase your reach in real time, giving you greater exposure to other decision-makers and influencers within an account. You’ll discover how, through a combination of marketing technology and online advertising, your messages can be displayed where and when your customers already engage online.

  • Align your sales and marketing teams for greater success in your ABM efforts
  • Analyze data to identify key accounts
  • Target your messages for real-time interaction
  • Integrate your campaign with marketing automation software

Want to learn about account-based marketing? Buy the book today. Also, learn more about Terminus.

Video of the Week: A First Drive in the Google Driverless Car

Following up on last week’s video about Cruise Automation and their story building driverless car technology, let’s take a look at Google’s driverless car in their video called A First Drive. Enjoy!

From YouTube: Fully autonomous driving has always been the goal of our project, because we think this could improve road safety and help lots of people who can’t drive. We’re now developing prototypes of vehicles that have been designed from the ground up to drive themselves—just push a button and they’ll take you where you want to go! We’ll use these vehicles to test our software and learn what it will really take to bring this technology into the world.

The Rise of Limited/No Visual Interface App Interaction

Over the last few months I’ve been playing with our Amazon Echo and it’s amazing. When a song pops in my head, I just ask Alexa to play it. When I need to set a timer in the kitchen, I just tell Alexa to set it. This concept of interacting with an app with no visual interface isn’t new. What is new is that it works well, very well.

Here are a few examples of limited/no visual interface app interaction:

  • Voice – Whether it’s Siri or Alexa, voice recognition technology is getting really good. I find talking to an app and interacting with it through voice much faster and more natural than clicking/touching a screen for simple interactions (assuming the app works well).
  • Email – More apps are using email as way to interact where the system sends an email to a user and the user then responds to the email with data, content, etc. that then gets ingested and processed. Interacting over email, when done well, feels elegant and frictionless.
  • Slack / Chat Rooms – Central chat rooms like Slack are becoming two-way communication services with outside apps (check out Slackbot). Similar to replying to an email to interact with a system, Slackbots can programmed to take in certain commands and inputs.

Look for this trend of limited/no visual interface app interaction to grow and become more commonplace.

What else? What are some more examples of limited/no visual interface app interaction?

6 SaaS Product Management Tips

Product management in a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) startup is one of the most important functions, and one of the most difficult — great product managers are hard to find. While product management is hard, there are a number of great resources online. Start with David Cancel’s blog (former head of product at HubSpot) and go from there. Here are six SaaS product management tips I’ve found valuable:

  1. Use dark features to roll functionality out to select accounts
  2. Develop a product management planning process
  3. Follow Covey’s four quadrants when thinking through functionality
  4. Find a daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly product rhythm
  5. Eliminate the five mistakes first-time product managers make
  6. Perfect is the enemy of good for product management

SaaS entrepreneurs would do well to embrace product management as a core function and follow these six tips.

What else? What are some more SaaS product management tips you like?

Why No Universal API Middleware

Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur about APIs (ways for apps to communicate with other apps automatically) as he was looking for a way to connect his app, and corresponding customers, with a number of other apps. Only, he couldn’t find anything on the market. Successful startups like MuleSoft and Zapier have numerous integrations but require going through their respective apps to make the connectors work — you can’t readily whitelabel them or use their APIs to connect to other APIs.

Why hasn’t a universal API middleware emerged? Here are a few ideas:

  • APIs constantly change. Facebook was notorious about constantly breaking their API, yet their motto at the time (“move fast and break things”) made their priority clear. As a vendor connecting to another vendor’s API, it takes on-going resources and money to keep APIs working, which is more expensive than it looks.
  • APIs aren’t as strategic as expected for most cloud-based apps. While companies like Salesforce have amazing APIs, many cloud-based apps don’t prioritize their APIs and thus the API doesn’t have parity with the user interface and bugs don’t get fixed quickly.
  • The long tail is really long. While there are 25-50 apps in the mainstream category (> $100MM ARR), there are hundreds and hundreds more in the near-mainstream category (> $25MM ARR), not counting the thousands more that have at least some scale (> $10M ARR). Outside of the mainstream apps, the next tier of apps, while having a large number of customers, doesn’t have enough overlapping customers with any other non-mainstream apps, making for a limiting number of useful integrations.
  • APIs constantly have problems. Whether it’s an API going down, user authentication expiring, or invalid data with limited error codes, APIs constantly have challenges. This makes for a less-than-ideal end user experience and a challenge to support a large number of APIs at scale.

Bottom line: APIs are much more complicated than they seem and only a handful are needed to make most customers happy, so vendors just write their own hand-crafted integrations. It doesn’t fulfill the ideals of a universal API middleware platform but it’s good enough for most apps.

What else? What are some more thoughts on why a universal API middleware hasn’t emerged?