Lessons learned from eating our own dog food

dog food

Over 28th and 29th January 2014, LiveStax was launched to 259 employees (now 261) of our first customer, Causeway, who happened to be our parent company.

User Development

  • Whilst the team believes LiveStax is the next best thing to slice bread, not everyone has been as excited as the team. The reality is that 12.6% of those on-boarded are yet to login for the first time. Whilst 87.4% on-boarding can only be treated as successful, as a team dedicated to excelling ourselves, we cannot be happier with anything less than 100%.
  • Whilst I have an inherent nature to try out anything new, majority of users saw LiveStax as yet another tool they were introduced to, even though a previous company wide presentation and demonstration of LiveStax received great reviews. It took few weeks before the majority of users logged in, other than those early adapters.
  • Whilst LiveStax can be used for both personal and business uses, as we launched it for business inside Causeway, users have been slow in setting up Groups for collaboration.
  • Active weekly usage have hovered between 15 to 30%, with current levels around 25%.

Apps Development

  • Customer view Apps which gives an unparallel insight to “single view of the Customer” have emerged as the winner. These apps surface information and functionality from sales, finance and support, the functionality which previously required in-depth understanding of respective software applications. In most cases, sales staff had no easy access to finance software and had to rely on colleagues to run regular reports. It has now become a common practise, even within this short period to view customer status before making a call or a site visit to truly understand any outstanding issues related to the customer, from payments to support tickets.
  • Not ignoring the social elements, the team has also been busy in building few fun apps including Formula 1 and Football to Sudoku. Whilst these have not made the top 6, nevertheless, we hope they will help improving the usage of LiveStax in the long run.
  • As individual Apps are concerned, Our Customers (45.98%), Where Is Everybody (26.82%), Causeway Status (25.09%), Customer Care (23.98%), Customer Location (23.24%), Maintenance DB (20.29%) and Room Rummager (19.93%) are popular among the 110 Apps in our AppStore.

What’s next?

  • We have a finite period before we on-board the second organisation. We need to understand what works and what does not. We know for a fact that having minimum Apps do not help. Lack of a SDK has frustrated many who were eager to develop Apps.
  • As soon as the SDK is available, Causeway Product Teams will commence development of Causeway Product Apps. However, few hungry teams have found ways around to develop an App or two.
  • As a tech startup with limited resources with an ambitious plan, just like any other team, we had to prioritise what gets build first. We’ve also changed some of the terminology as we continue user development, e.g. Stax is now simplified to Apps, Workgroups will be known as Spaces, and Workspaces, Groups and Tabs will be known as Pages.
  • We are currently developing the third major iteration on target for completion before we on-board the second customer. This version will also feature a significantly new design, both in terms of visual design, user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

Image credit: DROdio

What is LiveStax?

As we remain in stealth mode, many of you might wonder what LiveStax is all about. Below I tried to capture the very essence of LiveStax.

LiveStax surface the RIGHT Information to the RIGHT Employee to do the RIGHT Job at the RIGHT Time, via easy to build Apps, Pages and Spaces, which surface information and functionality from legacy, on-premise and SaaS software, reducing employee frustrations and improving business productivity, whilst giving back control of IT to CIO.

Let us know what you think.

Launch of LiveStax – Eating our own dog food

launchedWithout any fanfare, we launched quietly on 29th Jan 2014 to Causeway’s employees, gaining 258 users immediately.

If this is the first time you heard of the phrase “eating your own dog food”, here is a great explanation via Wikipedia:

Eating your own dog food, also called dogfooding, is a slang term used to reference a scenario in which a company (usually, a computer software company) uses its own product to demonstrate the quality and capabilities of the product.

Most successful startups are founded these days to solve a specific problem the founding team had. True to the trend, LiveStax was founded to address a problem Causeway had, as well as Causeway’s customers have (as we have deep knowledge of them), i.e. LiveStax makes it easy to surface information from multiple software applications via easy to create Apps.

This is the first of the four stage launch programme to achieve what I define as True SaaS, when a prospective customer can discover, trial and purchase without any human interaction. Internally, we call the current stage as Alpha Private, but its a fully functioning application ready to be used by every user on-boarded.

To achieve this stage, it has taken well over 2.5 years from the initial thought including many starts and stops. Today, the core development is undertaken by our team in Leamington Spa with internal Apps developed in Bourne End.

The true power of LiveStax will only be known when third parties start building Apps when the Software Development Kit (SDK) is out!

Congratulations to all those who made us reach Alpha Private! Now the fun begins with understanding how our 258 users are leveraging LiveStax day in day out!

Drawing inspiration from Intercom’s $30m investment in 30 months

intercom logoI’m a big fan of Intercom (except their pricing), and thrilled to hear the success story of raising $30m in 30 months from Eoghan, which is no simple task, especially for a non US company.

I would recommend you to read Eoghan’s blog post on raising of Series B round of $23m from Bessemer, which I have drawn inspiration from for this blog post.

people

I believe I first came across Intercom in late 2011 and first communicated with Des in Feb 2012. Intercom address a fundamental issue around user adaptation of web solutions, especially SaaS applications. It addresses some of the problems I highlighted in a previous blog post.

inte

So what inspirations can be drawn from Intercom, as we are about to go live with V1 Alpha Private (first of four stages of launch plan to become True SaaS)?

  1. Your vision is the ceiling for your company’s potential. You’ll never be a billion dollar business if you’re not deliberately working to get there“ - This is one of the key beliefs I am trying to instill on our team from the CEO to development team and beyond. Unlike in the USA, it is extremely hard to talk about a $1bn startup without getting ridiculed, especially within a mature company, given how long it has taken the company to achieve current state of revenues. It is lot easier if you are an independent startup (then you would not have all the upside we are currently enjoying).
  2. In the defining days of any new category, there are dozens of people who happen upon the same fundamental idea. But very few have the capacity to see the true potential for it beyond the obvious.” LiveStax is introducing a complete new product category (see previous post on which market segments LiveStax should compete in). There may be others who may be working on a similar idea (we don’t know what we don’t know), but given the investment we have already made, we believe we are in a unique position to introduce a new product, and grow it aggressively. ”What we do have is an innovative product. Something that people can’t get elsewhere which does unique things for them.” This is exactly how we feel about LiveStax.  

It would be interesting to watch how intercom grow over the next 30 months. Wishing all the best to Des, Eoghan and the team for the next chapter in creating a $1bn startup (eventhough it required them to move to the USA to execute this vision).

Why Suranga Chandratillake joining Balderton is a great coup for enterprise software spinouts

surangaBalderton Capital, one of the largest venture capital funds in Europe, not just managed to convince well-respected veteran VC, Daniel Waterhouse to join them last year, but has managed to secure Suranga Chandratillake as a partner. I was overjoyed to hear the appointment via Suranga on Facebook this morning, as I have been trying to convince Suranga to visit Manchester for sometime now. See: Press release and TechCrunch about the appointment.

Whilst most pundits will agree with me that this is a great coup for venture capital and tech startups in the UK and Europe, I see this as a significant opportunity to explore untapped opportunities in corporate spinouts, especially in enterprise software market.

ajaz

First of all, not many British tech startups have seen $1bn valuations, let alone $1bn market capitalisations. Whilst there are number of successful spinouts with over $1bn valuations, it is nonetheless rare to achieve such success, especially in the UK. Another example that comes to mind is Ajaz Ahmed’s attempts at spinning out Freeserve from Dixons (PC World) in Sep 1998, which was floated 9 months after with a market capitalisation of £1.5bn joining FTSE100 soon after. Freeserve was later sold to Wanadoo (Orange) for £1.6bn.

In 2004, Surange founded Blinkx (he was CTO in US operations of Autonomy at the time), an intelligent search engine for video and audio content, as a business inside Autonomy (which was sold to HP for $11bn in 2011). Three years later, the company was floated on London Stock Exchange with a $250m valuation. Today, Blinkx is valued more than $1.3bn on FTSE AIM 100.

Today, LiveStax is in a similar situation to Blinkx was in 2004 and FreeServe was in 1998. Unlike Blinkx but similar to Freeserve, LiveStax is being built from ground up without any proprietary software. Just like them, LiveStax is well-funded and have access to circa 2000 customers of Causeway Technologies. As far as I can see, there are no limitations of LiveStax being the next $1bn success story.

But first, we must truly believe in the potential, bring a “sense of urgency” and “act like one!” if we want the world to write about us in 10 years time!

 

Which tool is best for monitoring user adaptation

usersWith the imminent launch of LiveStax within Causeway Technologies, our first customer, how best to monitor user adaptation is on top of my mind today. I have been struggling to decide which tool to try out first. I personally have experience of Woopra and Intercom, but want to ensure we find the right tool for this stage of monitoring and communication.

This stage is not about converting users to customers. We are not interested in cohort analytics, as this is a fully controlled launch. No one will be able to sign up to the service other than the employees of Causeway.

Ideal functionality we are looking for:

  • Sending a welcome message upon signing up.
  • Schedule messages, both time based and event driven.
  • Allow 2 way manual one-to-one communication to educate users.
  • Ability to segment users based on usage, and then message them.
  • Inform new functionality and features.
  • Few metrics

Love to hear of any new SaaS apps out there which might help us understand user behaviour.

How LiveStax was perceived in 2013

When LiveStax was first conceived, there was a lot of discussion internally about the social aspects of it. The concept was presented to few of Causeway customers in early 2013 at the Causeway Showcase event, and the video below captures some of their enthusiasm.

Which market segments should LiveStax compete in?

AppsOne of my core responsibilities is to figure out which market segements LiveStax should compete in. This is quite difficult considering that we have not yet launched (we are planning to launch to our first medium size customer, Causeway in Jan 2014).

Let’s explore few possible market segments we could enter into:

  1. Market Places – In few years time, we can expect suppliers to discover customers (vice versa) and trade thanks to LiveStax. But this is the wrong one to enter right now.
  2. Collaboration – Whilst collaboration functionality is built-in, LiveStax will not be truly and highly collaborative environment until few years from now. It simply needs time, as we on-board customers and learn from their behaviour before we can refine collaborative features. Good examples in this space are Podio and Huddle but the market overall is quite fragmented. Again, this is not the right market for us to enter right now.
  3. Productivity (Improvement) - LiveStax will increase your productivity, given that information and functionality from multiple software applications will be on your finger tips in one environment without you having to constantly move from one software application to another. However, there is a danger in putting us in the same basket as task management software such as Trello and others. So it would be misleading if we introduce LiveStax as productivity software.
  4. Bringing it all together (by surfacing Information) – At present, there isn’t a real software category called Surfacing Information other than Business Intelligence and Dashboards. Whilst LiveStax can be configured to provide business intelligence, as well as create dashboards, we do not see LiveStax as either of these products. Companies in “bringing it all together” space include NetVibes, JoliCloud (by Tariq Krim, also founder of Netvibes) and HootSuite (limited to social media and connectivity to SaaS apps). LiveStax will have tremendous strength in this market segment.
  5. Unifying Software – Whilst this is exactly what LiveStax provides, it will be hard to market, given that no one is shouting out saying “give me a product that could unify all my software”. We believe this will become a common problem for many CIOs and IT Directors, as more and more staff continue to use a diverse range of best of breed software applications instead of limited number of large applications such as ERP. Again, we would be a strong contender in this market segment. The question is when will it be recognised as a segment?
  6. Enterprise App Store - With the boom in consumer apps fuelled by smart phones and tablets, apps are being used inside enterprises as it offers convenience further exacerbated by Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement. There will be many board room discussions where the CEO will be asking from CIO, “where is our Enterprise App Store”. LiveStax fits very well into this category, even though it feels bit too cheap to be called an Enterprise App Store, given its capabilities. Even this category is quite misleading as most enterprise app stores are simply a front for SaaS web apps with additional security. Interesting to note that Gartner predicts that by 2017, 25% of Enterprises will have their own AppStore.

At current thinking, LiveStax falls into an Enterprise App Store, Unifying software and Bringing it all Together. As LiveStax will be launched to a group of friendly Causeway customers initially, we do have the luxury of working with them to help us determine the market segments most appropriate to us.

If you a SaaS vendor, how did you decide which market segments to compete in? Love to hear your experiences.

 

How will the SaaS Market Evolve in 2014?

SaaS-Plane

I was debating whether to write about this on my own personal blog or here, but opted for LiveStax blog as our aim is to launch a True-SaaS product by 2015 (few customers will be using LiveStax well before) under the 4 stage launch programme. My thoughts on the topic was first shared on Quora, as a result of the discussion raised by Christophe Primault, Founder & CEO of GetApp, a Business Apps Marketplace for SaaS products.

Here are my thoughts:

  1. There will be greater debate on two tier systems, as more and more companies learn to live with on premise (including legacy) and SaaS, adopting a hybrid approach. Head over to Two-tier: systems of record and engagement written by Phil Waineright at Diginomica for a good insight on this topic.
  2. SaaS vendors will continue to be pulled in two directions, i.e. best of breed (single product) to multi product (driven by the need for greater revenues). One of these companies is Box with their Notes product. I had a quick chat with Aaron Levie, Co-Founder & CEO of Box recently in London. How companies manage between product extensions and diversifications will dictate who wins in the long run.
  3. The middle market will continue to cause confusion due to products that specialise for smaller companies (no sales team), and the rest focusing on larger companies (sales team). The biggest land grab is here. Offering a product for the middle market is always difficult due to overlaps, and the constant attempt by those at the either side wanting a piece of your market. One good example is SAP’s attempts via SAP by Design.
  4. Consolidations will start to bite others. It is becoming obvious that Salesforce is beginning to eat into MailChimp’s and Constant Contact’s email marketing space via ExactTarget acquisition.
  5. Larger companies will increase acquisition spree in their defence against Salesforce, as Salesforce continues to diverse from their CRM strength. No market segment will remain untouched, e.g. Having groomed Coda to built FinancialForce using force.com, and then having acquired a major shareholding, Salesforce is continually extending its capability in to other markets quietly.
  6. Surfacing information will become even more important. These tools will enable enterprises to extract further value from legacy and on-premise solutions, whilst supporting ever growing number of SaaS web apps. Whilst the Dashboards seems to dominate this market, the new entrants such as LiveStax in 2014 will begin to offer new broader solutions delighting CIOs and IT Directors.
  7. App Stores will be adopted more and more within the Enterprise. LiveStax will be right there to support this. I foresee enterprises having their own internal App Stores, which will support the ever increasing need for information and analytics.
  8. Enterprises will become truly social, where previous barriers between workers and managers will be broken via SaaS social apps, which will focus on greater collaboration and reporting.

Love to hear what your thoughts are on this vital subject.

Presenting LiveStax to Causeway Technologies

We reached another milestone today, when @Lynne presented LiveStax to Causeway employees at UK (Bourne End, Lemington Spa and Farnam), Middle East and Indian offices via a web link.

Here are some of the thoughts expressed by those who attended the session.