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Gmail, Don’t be a Yahoo!

In the 90’s I used to laugh at friends who all used Yahoo! as their personal email service. I did not understand how anyone could put up with the slow speeds of web-mail, and tried to convince them to install a decent email client, like Outlook, which is what most of them used in their corporate jobs.

Then things changed: Outlook grew into a bloated monster, it brought otherwise fairly speedy computers to a grinding halt and finding stuff in the archives of years of email became a gargantuan job. A new web-based email service came to rescue: Gmail was fast, well-organized, included productivity-boosters like labels and conversation-threading, and most importantly, you could not only search but also find old email in seconds! For this former Outlook-fan the switch was a no-brainer – in fact I ended up ditching almost all desktop software, moving online. (Gmail for mail and Zoho for most other tasks).

Life was good, I stayed productive and Gmail grew into a suite of productivity services by Google.  Too bad it’s breaking down – again…

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Finally Something Good on the Privacy Front–from Google Latitude

latitudeRecently I’ve been experimenting with Google Latitude: I wanted to see if I could use it to replace the “family locator” function that most mobile carriers offer at a premium price. This would require that your child or elderly parent or whoever’s whereabouts you care about carries  the phone in their pocket with the display off, while it continues to send its location to you.

No can do.  Partly due to Latitude, partly due to the mobile carrier. The problem with Latitude, at least on Android 2.1 is that as soon as the phone goes to sleep, your GPS shuts off – I understand it as default to save battery life, but Latitude should offer the option to continue using GPS, if I so chose.

Without GPS …

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Did 37Signals Increase BaseCamp Price or Not? The Backdoor Experiment.

There’s a debate going on about 37Signal’s “hidden” “unannounced” price increase of their popular Basecamp service.

Apparently most of the uproar wasn’t so much due to the price hike itself, but the fact that it happened without any announcement.

Cinovate Cloud Inn.Cinovate Cinovate Cloud Inn.

Why did 37 Signal’s Basecamp price double unannounced? http://bit.ly/bLan2a Contact Cinovate for a Force.com based Basecamp killer app.

Canada Tech Eqentia

canadatechnews Canada Tech Eqentia

Why did 37 Signal’s Basecamp price double unannounced? http://eqent.me/caOkNV

TechvibesTO

TechvibesTO TechvibesTO

Why did 37 Signal’s Basecamp price double unannounced? http://ht.ly/19GKlt

22 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

Not everyone agrees:

Ben Kepes@benkepes Ben Kepes

If people have a problem with #BaseCamp #37Signals pricing they have two options, shut up or move on. No big deal cc/ @jasonfried

Hm. I guess STFU is an answer, too.  On the other hand, competitors are ready to take advantage of the situation:

Mike Erickson

mikeerickson Mike Erickson

If you dont like the #basecamp price hike, check out #teambox!

BlueCamroo

bluecamroo BlueCamroo

Don’t like #basecamp price rise? Try #BlueCamroo. Project Management and Social CRM with Twitter from $24.99 p.m. http://bit.ly/c68rkR

Zoho (longtime CloudAve sponsor) even offered a conversion tool: BUMP. (not to be mixed up with the iPhone / Android BUMP)

But 37Signals Founder Jason Fried came back with a surprising statement:

This isn’t accurate. We have not raised prices. Our prices have been steady for years. Max is still $149. Premium is still $99. Plus is still $49. Basic is still $24. Free is still free. Same prices as last week, last month, last quarter, last year, two years before that, etc. Each plan has the exact same levels and features and projects and disk space as before.

So who is right?  And more importantly, where is the $24 Basic Plan?

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Who Says Enterprise Software Isn’t Sexy? Ok, Just Cool…

Or at least customers using SAP are making cool things… :-)

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SAP Business ByDesign Video – Plain and Simple, Making Fun of …Wow, ERP!

We’re just having an intense internal debate in the Enterprise Irregulars group whether SAP’s Business ByDesign (ByD) is late to the market and what it all means, when hot off the press here’s a promotional video, that’s not so much ByD advertising but a SMB / SME SaaS 101, and a very good one at that (now, that was a mouthful of acronyms).

Ironically, the video makes fun of the Big Ugly Beast, ERP – which happens to be SAP’s bread and butter. (Hey, I’ve long been saying SAP should have copied a chapter from Larry Ellison’s book, invest in a SMB Startup and let it grow independently…)

Hat tip for the video: Timo Elliot.

See our (more serious) Business ByDesign coverage here.

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Atlassian: Fully Funded. By Customer Revenue. Oh, and the $60M T-shirt

atlassian mike scott It was 2006, the first Office 2.0 Conference in San Francisco and I just met Jeffrey Walker, President of Atlassian. I had followed the company for a while (OK, I admit, had been a fan), met Mike, but this was the first time with Jeffrey, so we took our box lunch to a cozy little place away from the crowd and started to chat. Within minutes a VC Partner joined us, and so the usual “what are you doing” conversation started.  Well, it wasn’t a conversation: Jeffrey talked, the VC listened.  And in 5 minutes he was ready pull out the checkbook (sort of), when Jeffrey dropped the bomb:

We’re actually not seeking funding.  We’re fully funded.  By customer revenues.

Seeing the VC’s face was priceless.  After all, the cliche for startup success was to take funding.   Which Atlassian did – 4 years later.  But they do nothing by halves.  $60 million or nothing! :-)   But I am running ahead.  Back to the early days.

I got to know Atlassian as the Wiki Company – having compared the few early business wikis, I came to the Conclusion that Confluence was the most robust, complete one.  I’m probably not the most pleasant reviewer when I don’t like what I see – but I could simply not find anything to criticize with Confluence – it became the de facto industry standard for others to follow.  That said Atlassian is /was about more then Confluence: their roots are in supporting developers, having started with a powerful bug tracker Jira, and growing to eight (?) products atlassian modelorganically and through acquisitions.  Not being a techie, I don’t even understand most of these products – so the root cause of my infatuation with Atlassian was really their business model.

There is nothing wrong with taking VC Funding, but risking everything to your last penny is what Entrepreneurship was originally all about, so it is simply refreshing to see a company to have made it solely on bootstrapping, beating the odds. Add to it great software that’s easy to buy, learn, use, sprinkle it with a good dose of transparency and great service,  and you get a startup worth admiring. I’ve had lots of fun covering their early success and also learned a lot watching them:

Oh, and they gave me some of my funnier titles:

…’cause they like having fun, and I guess it’s contageous.  But amidst all that fun they can sometimes be dangerous:-)

I tried to help them fill The Dream Job (no, I wanted that job:-)), help with their charitable promotion – hey, even put my http://www.cloudave.com/link/helping-atlassian-stimulus-package-towards-the-finish-line“>money where my mouth was.  Then I had to write the most difficult post in my life, saying goodbye to Jeffrey, Atlassian President, musician, amazing person and fellow Enterprise Irregular.

And today they taught me another lesson: don’t ever sit on a story.  It expires.  My unwritten story that I’ve been contemplating for a while was about two bootstrapped startups, both in software, amazingly successful that have sailed into IPO zone almost unnoticed.  The second one is Zoho, which I consider to be approaching IPO-readiness, but I seriously doubt they would chose to go that way.  But Zoho is our Sponsor, talking too much about them would look like ***ing up, so I’ll stop here.  The day will come.  But today is Atlassian’s day.

Why would a company that has profitably grown for 8 years need funding now? They want to grow more agressively, both in terms of geography and product coverage. That means acquisitions.  They  want to accelerate growth to above $100M revenue, which is what’s considered “IPO ready” nowadays.

mcaccon underwaterBut what drove me to the conclusion they were on the IPO-track even before the funding was deep in their culture.

Atlassian is always hiring, yet it’s difficult to get in. They are picky. It’s a “work-hard-play-hard” culture.  Employees are well paid and  the company spends lavishly on team fun. No wonder their revenue per employee ratio is high.  But the team lives in Sydney and San Francisco, where there is an expectation that after a few years in a red-hot startup you get rich…  The Founders probably no longer live frugally, but how to share the wealth with all employees without an exit?  Funding accelerates the path to exit and my even bring interim liquidity critical to keep the team around. I agree with Ben in that respect.

dftpc $60 million is a lot of money, in fact Accel Partners claim it is the largest investment they’ve ever made in the software business.  But there’s a whole world of difference in picking it up as a mature, profitable company or a fledgling startup.  Some of Atlassian’s competitors picked up a third of this amount at early stages and probably had to give up three times as much equity as Atlassian did.  Bootstrapping has paid off, after all.

Oh, about that $60M T-shirt – you really have to read it over @ Atlassian. After all, this is a SFW blog:-)

Update:  I’m speechless.  What’s this? Sour grapes?

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Is SaaS Dead? No. Neither is Debate.

cemeteryWe’ve had email dead, resumes dead, wikis dead themes, now it’s apparently time for the SaaS is Dead meme, thanks to a recently published Gartner report.   My favorite quote from the report:

SaaS is not a panacea, and companies need to evaluate and understand the trade-offs that SaaS presents

Indeed. Here’s another quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto:

If you’re a small business with no IT staff then the math is a lot easier. You need to buy the hardware. With a larger company, the math doesn’t always work out in favor of SaaS.

Now, where have I heard that before?  Wait… I said it, 4 years ago:

…While it’s easy to declare that for small businesses without their own IT resources there is no better option than SaaS, there is no clear “winner” for large corporations. There shouldn’t be. This is not religion; it should be business decisions that these organizations have to make individually. Analysts fighting the SaaS vs. On-premise war often forget that software exist to resolve business problems. As Charles so eloquently points out, it’s the complexity of these business processes, the need for customization, the number of user seats..etc that matters, and as we move up on this scale, increasingly “traditional” Enterprise Software is the answer. I happen to believe that eventually SaaS will grow up to meet those requirements, but am not going to guess how many years it will take. In the meantime the SaaS-fans (admittedly I am one) can claim that SaaS is the future – but that does not mean Enterprise Software is dead.

OK, ego trip done, let’s look at some of the specific points that sparked a debate between Krish  @ CloudAve and Ben Kepes:

The TCO Myth

Gartner argues that long term TCO of on-premise software can be lower for businesses that don’t upgrade often. Krish’s counterpoint is that businesses that stay on obsolete versions of their systems will fall behind competitors.  Ben argues that many businesses are simply satisfied with their current system functionality and would derive little value from upgrades (well he refers to moving to SaaS, but that was not the original point by Gartner).

My take: sorry guys, it’s not so black-and-white.  Yes, many businesses avoid software upgrades like the plague, but not necessary because they would not benefit from it: it’s all about avoiding the major cost and business disruption traditional Enterprise Software upgrades bring about. (As a background, I spent the 90’s selling and implementing SAP solutions. I still chuckle when I hear there are SAP consulting teams at my 1990-93 clients: the upgrade cycle never ends)

SaaS typically comes with more subtle and more frequent updates that don’t disrupt business.  Now, let’s be fair: the SaaS market is still quite nascent, despite the fact that Gartner is ready to bury it. Our experience is with seemless Google and Zoho upgrades, or not-so-seamless but still not disruptive Salesforce.com, NetSuite ..etc upgrades.  There is still nothing on the same magnitude of a SAP or Oracle Enterprise Suite, so we really do not have a lot of realistic comparison on that level…

For further details I suggest Ray Wang’s excellent piece on How To Compare Total Ownership Costs.

The Pay as You Use Myth

Gartner says the old enterprise practices are seeping into the SaaS market and we are seeing push for long-term, multi-year deals with upfront payments.

Krish argues that many enterprise customers actually prefer to pay long term to avoid the hassle of monthly billing, while Ben points out the root cause of the issue is SaaS vendors not having the right tools for more granular use-based billing.

Both are right, I don’t even see this a debate (?).  Years ago I had been a NetSuite customer, and was given several choices, with multi-year contract carrying significant discounts.  But still, the plans were mostly seat-based, with no chance to adjust downward and not enough flexibility to account for functions used / not used.   But let me say this: a lot of what we’re saying today is just business decisions, SaaS providers have better technical bakcground to offer very granular, real-usage based pricing for two reasons:

  • They can actually monitor what is being used (unique vs concurrent users, actual functions not just major modules)
  • They can invoice accordingly – the systems are now available, and I think competition will push them t create the business framework.

Coincidentally, NetSuite just announced their integration with Zuora, the billing system for the subscription economy. This is an offering for subscription-based businesses who uses NetSuite – in other words NetSuite’s customer.  Now, what I really wonder about is whether NetSuite will take this opportunity and consider themselves a customer / user of Zuora’s services: i.e. step up the plate and offer true usage-based subscription models – most likely as an alternative to the current ones.

The Shelfware Problem

No, for this to come up as a SaaS-specific problem is just pathetic. Shelfware is as old a concept as Software licencing: it’s the phenomenon of being locked in to more user seats and entire modules you don’t use, often without knowing about it.  Here’s a choice quote from Gartner VP Rob Desisto again, although he used it in another context:

many organizations have CRM already because it was bundled with their ERP licenses

There is nothing inherent in the nature of SaaS that would promote shelfware, in fact as I‘ve just pointed out above, technically SaaS vendors have better ability to monitor actual usage than the major nightmare of software audits in the on-premise world.  There are good initiatives, like RightNow promising to end shelfware, and I trust competition will lead to more of this.

Again, I offer two great pieces on the subject by Ray Wang:

The debate is on – feel free to chime in.

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I’m Lucky To Have Bet on Mint vs. Wesabe…

I’m sure as hell lucky to have bet on Mint when Microsoft Money died… but to be honest it was a flip of a coin decision, Wesabe, the other web-based personal finance management program looked just as attractive.   Good product, perfect pedigre, strong VC funding.   Now Wesabe is in the deadpool while Mint essentially became Quicken Online.

A comparative analysis of the two, and why one died why the other thrives would be a very educational startup story – if somebody close enough to the fire has the facts.

Wesabe users have until July 31st to export their data (a rather short period, if you ask me, given the importance of such data.).  I certainly hope Mint (Intuit) will step up the plate and offer streamlined migration.

In the meantime, I’m just lucky having bet on Mint. :-)

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Gmail Back to Earth – In Search of $, I Suppose…

Image credit: LifeHacker

Image credit: LifeHacker

I’ve been long-time Gmail fan, having used it from the very early days, for almost 5 years now.  The key reasons why I switched and have stuck with the service ever since were the productivity boosters, first of all:

  • Threaded conversations
  • Labels
  • Search

I also must say that for all other Web Office needs I prefer ( and always have) Zoho’s products.  Now, take that with a grain of salt, I do have a bias, since Zoho are is the exclusive Sponsor of CloudAve, my main blogging gig, and before launching CloudAve, I had been a long-time Zoho Advisor. Being an Advisor is a controversial role: sometimes your Clients listen, sometimes they don’t.

I must admit for a long time I was going nuts trying to convince Zoho to throw out most of their email product and radically revamp it to offer Gmail-like benefits, mostly threaded conversations.   Why didn’t they get it?  I was frustrated.  But the two things happened.  I looked at the email (both Zoho and Gmail ) accounts of several people and was surprised that even the Gmail version showed only 1-2-3 items in a thread.  My folders labels are full of threads with 30+ entries each.  I’m a productivity-maniac freelancer, part of a few hyper-active discussion group, but not everyone’s usage pattern is like mine…

In fact I also had to realize that I don’t really represent Zoho’s paying customer base.  Sure, freelancers, bloggers..etc can generate a lot of hype and get enthusiastic about change, but the real money is in those “boring” businesses that are willing to pay, but don’t really want to change.  Corporate employees live in Outlook, whether they like it or not is almost irrelevant, they (or their employers) resent change.  So Zoho decidedly resisted turning everything upside down, staying “boring” for a long while, because this is what customers told them to do.  (Zoho has this strange philosophy about business: they don’t want to be coolest company. Just a profitable one.)

Of course over time they added conversation threads and labels, albeit implemented less radically than Gmail – it’s a mix, you can have either traditional or conversation views, and both labels and folders.   But this story is not about Zoho – it’s about Gmail.  Funny changes are happening in Gmail-land.  They added folders, then improved them.  Not that it makes a lot of difference – while for some it is a religious war, I’ve always said:

All folders are labels, but not all labels are folders.

Really. Read the details here.   And now Henry Blodget reports: Google To Change Gmail, Add “Normal Email” Option Instead Of Just “Conversations”.

OMG!  Is that the End of the World, or what?  Not really… I suppose it’s all about financial realities and what the real world wants: you can be innovator, but if you want to sell, you better listen to your customers.  (For clarification: customers are those who pay.  That’s not me ).   Welcome back to Earth, Gmail!   I for one am happy the “new” old way is just an option and conversations remain, otherwise I’d have to switch again – and switching is a major pain.

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Universal, Actionable Search: Zoho’s Improved Answer to “Where’s My Stuff?”

zoho search Search, Don’t Organize

– is the Google mantra, meaning we should stop wasting time filing away information in folders, sorting, labeling it for later retrieval, when it’s so much easier to search / find it.

That is, if you know where to search. Did you discuss that project in email?  Or was it a Document?  A Presentation?  A Spreadsheet?  A Wiki?  Was there a meeting on it that’s in your Calendar?

We’ve finally resolved the issue of universal search on the desktop, but not on the Web.  Google’s productivity tools all have their own search facilities (I love Gmail search) but you have to execute search on an app by app basis.  Even my Android-phone fares better, where I can search within a particular app or all my data.

Surprisingly, Zoho came out with Universal Search before the King of Search (although it would be naive to believe Google won’t catch up…)   The Universal, Actionable Search solution announced today is just that:

  • Universal: working across several Zoho applications, e.g. Mail, Docs, Writer, Sheet, Show, Notebook, Discussions, Accounts
  • Actionable: depending on the context you can edit a document, respond to / forward an email, IM a contact..etc on a single click, right from the search results, without having to launch the individual application.

A nice step towards contextual integration we’ve just discussed recently.

For now Search is either accessible via search.zoho.com or by using the search box in Zoho Business – eventually all Zoho Apps will get the Universal Search box.  (I have no information on how it will be implemented, but once again, context comes first: I’d expect the default to be within the specific app, other apps or “all” selectable, whereas in Business, which is Zoho’s  business portal the “all” setting is more logical)

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(Disclosure:  Zoho is CloudAve’s exclusive Sponsor)