Video of the Week: How the blockchain is changing money and business | Don Tapscott

For our video of the week, watch How the blockchain is changing money and business | Don Tapscott. Enjoy!

From YouTube:
What is the blockchain? If you don’t know, you should; if you do, chances are you still need some clarification on how it actually works. Don Tapscott is here to help, demystifying this world-changing, trust-building technology which, he says, represents nothing less than the second generation of the internet and holds the potential to transform money, business, government and society.

The Power of the Webhook

Back in the Pardot days, we wanted a way to accept data from a third-party form or application directly into the app, so we came up with the form handler. Basically, it’s the receiving end of a form submission without the front end form fields to go with it. Over time, this practice of sending and receiving data via a specific URLs became popular and is widely know as a webhook.

Wikipedia has a more technical definition:

Webhooks are “user-defined HTTP callbacks”. They are usually triggered by some event, such as pushing code to a repository or a comment being posted to a blog. When that event occurs, the source site makes an HTTP request to the URI configured for the webhook. Users can configure them to cause events on one site to invoke behaviour on another.

Now, webhooks make it easy to share data and trigger features across thousands of SaaS apps, and they don’t have to have formal integrations. The more apps that implement webhooks — both to send and receive data — the more the incumbent apps that aren’t SaaS 2.0 lose their ecosystem integration moat.

Look for webhooks to continue to grow in importance over time.

What else? What are some more thoughts on the power of webhooks?

JavaScript as the Web’s Integration Fabric

Ten years ago, I never would have predicted how JavaScript (code to make things more dynamic in a web browser) hosted on third-party sites would become the core integration method for the front-end of the web (see The Three Types of SaaS Integration). In hindsight, it makes sense that interactive elements and analytics would be decoupled from much of the content so that companies can deliver best-of-breed solutions for a variety of functions. Now, tag managers like Segment and Google Tag Manager have taken it one step further and decoupled the loading of JavaScript on a per-page basis to a system that uses JavaScript to load other JavaScript (very meta).

Many popular webpage features are loaded via JavaScript that comes from a third-party, including:

  • Web analytics
  • Forms
  • Live chat
  • Comments
  • Pop-up prompts that ask for an email address
  • Site search
  • Dynamic content

Going forward, look for this trend to continue and more functions on the web to be delivered via third-party JavaScript. More sites will deliver real-time personalization and richer, higher quality experiences in a seamless manner via third-party products. JavaScript is the web’s integration fabric, and growing in importance.

What else? What are some more thoughts on JavaScript as the web’s integration fabric?

API-First SaaS 2.0 Single Page Apps

Two of the core components of SaaS 2.0 products are actually related: API-first platform and rich, responsive user interfaces. Ever since Gmail made the first mainstream Javascript-heavy web experience that feels more like a desktop app, developers have been building open source platforms to make that type of “Single Page App” easier and faster to build. Single Page Apps reload only the portions of the screen that have changed, instead of the traditional way which refreshed the whole screen. And, these Single Page Apps work best against REST APIs, the same APIs that make a product API-first.

Now, there are powerful Javascript libraries like Angular (MVC framework backed by Google) and React (view framework backed by Facebook) that are popular with strong developer communities and a long list of additional open source projects that plug in nicely. By having quality, proven open source platforms, more apps are going to adopt them thereby applying more pressure to the legacy incumbents. The incumbents are going to have an incredibly hard time modernizing. Just like many software companies couldn’t make the transition from on-premise to the cloud, many SaaS companies aren’t going to be able to make the transition from SaaS 1.0 to SaaS 2.0, and it’ll be most apparent in the user experience.

Look for Single Page Apps to be a defining characteristic of API-first SaaS 2.0 companies.

What else? What are some more thoughts on API-first SaaS 2.0 Single Page Apps?

The Three Types of SaaS Integrations

Continuing with last week’s post titled Integrations as Key for Next Generation SaaS Success, there’s a critical point that was missed in that not all product integrations are created equal — not even close. For SaaS 2.0 startups, catching up to the depth and variety of integrations of the incumbents is one of the major challenges. When thinking through integrations, it’s important to understand the three major types:

  • Native Integrations – Integrations that are developed in-house to send/receive data as well as call remote functions and expose additional internal functionality are native integrations. Native integrations are the most valuable as the quality is typically higher and the SaaS company is committed to maintain them.
  • JavaScript Overlay Integrations – Integrations that are done via a Google Chrome Extension or JavaScript to override the user interface of a third-party app are UI overlay integrations. A common example is the industry of Chrome Extensions that add functionality to Gmail through the user interface and not the API.
  • Middleware Integrations – Integrations that are written and maintained by a third-party integration platform to connect two disparate apps are middleware integrations (e.g. MuleSoft or Zapier). Middleware integrations can be more expensive and/or slower depending on the APIs of the products being connected.

When thinking through the integration landscape, it’s important to understand that there are a variety of integration types and they aren’t equal.

What else? What are some more types of integrations with SaaS products?

Software Contracts and Traditional Business Practices

As an investor, I like seeing portfolio companies have their customers sign annual (or multi-year!) contracts and get the benefit of cash flow predictability (including prepayment) and customer commitment. In exchange for doing a longer customer contract, the vendor company can invest more in the customer acquisition process, the on-boarding/implementation process, and on-going customer success and support.

As a buyer, I dislike contracts as the needs of the business can change (need to cancel or downgrade — not possible), the vendor can provide poor service or a poor product experience for a period of time and there’s no recourse, and product usage can fluctuate (Slack is famous for only charging for users that actually use the product, not all users in the system). No contracts and more flexibility to adjust spending (specifically, spending less during certain months) is more customer-friendly.

Over time, as more next generation SaaS companies emerge, and there’s more comparable competition in the market, I believe we’re going to see more SMB software vendors not require contracts and have more flexible business practices that better align with how users want to buy. This will be a slow transition but expect it to be mainstream in the next 5 – 10 years.

What else? Do you think SMB vendors requiring annual contracts will be continue to be the norm?

Workflow App or Persistent Background Service for SaaS Success

Continuing with Characteristics of Successful SaaS Products, a friend pointed out that while workflow apps are the most common type of successful SaaS app, there’s another category of successful SaaS app: persistent background services. Persistent background services are a class of SaaS apps that once configured run automatically with little to no on-going human interaction, often via API calls.

Here are some example persistent background services:

  • Calendly – Scheduling service overlaid on Google Calendar, Office 365, and iCloud to make it easy to schedule meetings with professionals.
  • SendGrid – Email delivery as a service for bulk and transactional email messages (e.g. API to send lost password emails, customer email receipts, etc.).
  • Twilio – Telephony in the cloud to trigger phone calls, text messages, video chat, and more via API (e.g. click to call from a CRM, text messages for two factor authentication, etc.).

Add persistent background services as another class of successful SaaS app to go along with the workflow apps (the characteristics of successful SaaS apps are still applicable).

What else? What are some more thoughts on persistent background services as another type of successful SaaS apps?