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?

The Most Important Equation to Understand the Current Tech Boom

Benedict Evans has a great post up titled Forget about the mobile internet where he argues that mobile is the real internet and the desktop is limited. In the article, he has a slide that outlines a simple equation that best represents why we’re in a tech boom:

Here’s the formula from the slide spelled out:

  • 2-3x more smartphones than PCs by 2020
    Taken everywhere
    Frictionless access
    Sensors, cameras
    Social platform
    Much easier to use
    Vastly bigger opportunities

Simply put, more people than ever before have super computers in their pocket with tremendous functionality and ease of use. Incredibly large markets with new functionality result in huge opportunities, and we have a tech boom as a result.

What else? What are some more thoughts on this important equation to understand the current tech boom?

HR Recruiting and Applicant Tracking Systems

Recently I was talking to an entrepreneur about finding great team members and technologies used to help with the process. We got into talking about the ideal system and realized we didn’t know of the best tools for what we wanted. Here’s what we’d like:

  • Multi job board listing distribution and management (e.g. post a job to a number of sites automatically)
  • Ability for candidates to apply online and submit their resume
  • Video integration for candidates to post a video of answering specific questions (to help speed up the process in lieu of a phone screen)
  • Internal review of candidates and resumes (e.g. ranking and collaboration tools)
  • Workflow system to take candidates through the hiring process
  • Marketing functionality to message candidates in a repeatable manner (much like drip programs)
  • Integration with LinkedIn to find potential candidates and see the strength of relationships for candidates in the pipeline

There are so many strong HR Software-as-a-Service tools out there that I’m guessing there are a number of systems that accomplish this. Finding great people is such a critical role in any business that it’s clear there’s a role for technology to enhance it.

What HR recruiting and applicant tracking system do you use? Do you recommend it?

More Vertical, Niche SaaS Startups

Over the past few months I’ve talked to a number of entrepreneurs with vertical, niche Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products. As expected, mainstream SaaS platforms are being carved up into small, specialized point solutions, while also providing a better experience to their customers. Most venture investors are looking for large, platform-like SaaS startups, but more entrepreneurs are going to build sustainable SaaS products that aren’t venture backable, yet very successful.

Here are a few thoughts on more vertical, niche SaaS startups:

  • SaaS, with strong to recurring revenue, predictability, and renewal rates (hopefully!), makes for a sustainable business, even at limited scale
  • Costs to develop and deploy software has continued to drop due to open source and the cloud, making it easier to get products to market and carve out a niche (scaling a business is still capital intensive)
  • Depth of product functionality is going to be stronger the more narrow the market, and thus serve the customers’ needs better
  • Marketing and sales prospecting is more straightforward with a focused market, especially messaging and talking points

Look for the SaaS cottage industry to continue to grow, especially as more more vertical, niche products reach a sustainable size.

What else? What are some other reasons there will be more vertical, niche SaaS startups?

Gmail Productivity Tips

Personally, I enjoy figuring out ways to be more efficient and more productive. One area that I’ve developed several shortcuts and optimizations is Google Apps, specifically Gmail. For two decades, I did email in a native app (Pine, Thunderbird, and Outlook) before switching exclusively to Gmail. After being Gmail-only for several years, I recommend it to everyone.

Here are a few Gmail productivity tips:

  • Send and Archive – For almost all email responses, I use the optional Send and Archive button available through Gmail Settings. The idea is that once I send a response, I don’t want to see the email again unless the recipient responds back. With one click, the response is sent and I likely won’t ever see that email again.
  • Auto-Advance Emails – Every time I respond to an email, Gmail automatically takes me to the next oldest email in the Inbox without showing the Inbox via auto-advance, making it easy to rapid-fire process emails.
  • Canned Responses – Many of the common emails I send, like scheduling a meeting or introducing another person, are a canned response, making the email process faster and more consistent.
  • Calendly Signature Link – For sales reps and customer-facing roles, adding a Calendly link to the signature (see Jason’s post on Calendly) makes it easy for prospects and clients to schedule a meeting with limited friction.
  • Hide Unread Email Counts – As I don’t want to be distracted by the number of unread emails, I click on the “Starred” folder on the left navigation to change the page title and thus not show new emails in the inbox.
  • Native Mobile App – On iPhone, the native Gmail app is much better than using the standard email program, but doesn’t support all the above features.

Gmail is an amazing tool, and with these productivity tips, an even better and more efficient experience.

What else? What are some more Gmail productivity tips that you like?