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It’s time for me to confess…

I think enterprise software is sexy as hell.  There, I said it. I think creating value that customers will pay for is extremely hot. A recurring revenue stream makes me giddy.  And nothing, absolutely nothing, turns my head more than profitability.

Why is enterprise boring by definition?  How can improving or changing the way people do business not get you fired up?   Even when I was a noob to the Valley, I still preferred business over consumer. Maybe it’s just because I don’t understand consumers or I don’t want to fall prey to their fickle nature.  Maybe I really am just old and boring and can’t accept it.  Or maybe it’s because I grew up in the age of SaaS.  At my first startup in 1998, we didn’t even know what to call it. We said, “Um, it lives in your browser.” [Blank stare.]  “You can log in from any computer, even from home.” [Furrowed brow.]  Our incumbent competitor wasn’t just premise-based, but kiosk-based, so it was a mind-bending concept for our prospects to grasp. At some point these magical services became ASP, then on-demand, then SaaS, and now we’re all happily living in the cloud – until the next rebrand.

The inspiration for this blog came after reading a great article in TechCrunch where Alexander Haislip explains that the model to follow is not Instagram, but companies that have “real intellectual property, obvious monetization and a plethora of cash-rich potential acquirers.”  I loved Alex’s contrast on the statistical exit probability and valuations of consumer and enterprise markets…. but it was the reader comments that hooked me. It was a lively debate and I’d wager I could guess the age of each commenter within 5 years.  And then I found the one that struck a nerve, “God in Heaven, I don’t know ONE techie who WANTS to build that crap!”

Crap? Really?

As I sat ranting in my head about how these SoLoMo app building, Red Bull drinking, freemium loving, hoodie wearing twentysomethings don’t have a freakin’ clue, it hit me – I am a complete hypocrite.  I cannot count the number of times I’ve turned up one side of my lip while emitting an audible sound of disgust at the thought of working for a global, lumbering, legacy enterprise like Oracle or Cisco. How could that enterprise be my enterprise?   I realized that, just as the newest generation of entrepreneurs and enthusiasts have little understanding of what’s come before them, I’ve completely failed to pay homage to all that came before me. … and what those companies did to empower our generation to build the next great thing on top of their achievements.

When I joined the “dotcom” ranks, we were revolutionizing the world with “the Internet,” turning tradition on its ear, changing the way the world communicated, and had zero respect for anything that got in our way.  In hindsight, it’s clearer to me that while all of that is true, we owed that opportunity to the trailblazers that made our revolution possible.  Without the on-premise and client-side software providers, what improvements would we have had to offer with our fancy new SaaS-iness? Without the hardware, database and communications infrastructure, what would we have built upon? The big boring behemoths are behemoths precisely because our world can’t run without them.  Remove that infrastructure and our apps, enterprise or otherwise, grind to a screeching halt.

I’d also venture to say that this generation’s arrogance is completely justified.  Social and mobile are absolutely revolutionizing how the world connects and interacts.  It did, however, take a lot of once-alluring hardware innovation and uber-sexy enterprise (and consumer) software to get here.

Thankfully Aaron Levie has declared enterprise is sexy “again” (twice!). And even if Dustin Moskovitz and Drew Houston haven’t explicitly declared their infatuation they (along with others) have certainly done it in deed. Yes, fanboys, someone can voluntarily leave Facebook for enterprise without dying of boredom. And just for the record, I love SoLoMo apps, Red Bull and hoodies.  Just don’t get me started on freemium unless you’re ready for an earful. It’s a topic for an upcoming blog.

Here’s my point: From mainframes to mobile, everything that has value was sexy at some point, even if that’s no longer the case.  This blog will feature interviews and guest posts from everyone along the way.  Tales from the trenches, lessons learned, and a timeless perspective on who and what has contributed to creating the industry I love.

Wanna share your sexy story through a guest post or interview?  Let me know in the comments or connect with me on Twitter.

Special thanks to David “The Punctuation” Gleason for his Wikipedia mind, colorful insight and masterful editing prowess.

I’m Too Sexy For This (Enterprise) Startup*

Gretchen DeKnikker:

Enterprise is Sexy is delighted to share this incredibly refreshing and hilarious take on the new enterprise lovefest. Thank you so much to Nick Mehta, EIR at Accel, for allowing us to reblog his post.  Please check out more of his musings at Mehtaphysical and follow him on Twitter.

Originally posted on Mehtaphysical:

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Everyone is talking about the enterprise being “sexy” “again.”  VCs are urging entrepreneurs into enterprise battle.  Quora-ians are trying to figure out how to get more people into enterprise startups.  People are actually describing entire data centers (usually unmarked white concrete buildings) as sexy.  Kevin Rose digs it.  Apparently there is even a beauty contest for “sexiest enterprise startup.”  Heck – while everyone else has a man or woman-crush on Jack Dorsey, Jack’s now in love with enterprise file sharing startup Box’s CEO Aaron Levie:

My reaction: WTF (as in World Trade Foundation).  Is everyone crazy?  Sexy?  Are you serious?

Sure, technically there have been 56 IPOs with more than $1 billion in…

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Think Engineering’s Not Sexy? Think Again

The following is a guest post by Tom Benner, Product Engineer at SocialPandas.

Tom BennerEngineers perhaps aren’t incredibly qualified to talk about sexiness, but we do know that in its purest form, it’s never skin-deep. An unsexy product is a reflection of the company building it, and enterprise companies, unfortunately, have long been seen as profoundly unsexy. The ones with the least to lose are often the ones who are most able to redefine themselves, though, and for every hundred consumer companies that are busy being pretty and flashy, there’s an enterprise company over in the corner discreetly cultivating a whole new kind of sexy.

Last Wednesday at Founders Den, Yammer CTO & Cofounder, Adam Pisoni, and Director of Engineering, Jay Laney, shared Yammer’s nimble team structure that places absolute importance on agility, a trait rarely associated with large enterprise companies. This tenacious focus yields benefits from faster shipping to a cleaner codebase to a very appealing acquisition. This was the inaugural event of a new series sponsored by SocialPandas and Enterprise is Sexy.

Adam Pisoni Jay Laney

The Yammer Way: Decentralized, Autonomous, Transparent, Dedicated, Ephemeral Teams

Small, Autonomous Teams

As Yammer grew from a small, nimble team to a progressively larger one, they began to notice the typical lack in productivity that comes with the overhead of coordinating a large team. For them to have a chance at outpacing their many competitors, retaining the agility of a small team was crucial. Why not simply decentralize and divide into smaller, dedicated teams, then? This has, of course, been done before, and because the teams are still dependent on a larger organizational structure, they’re still easily blocked by overhead.

Yammer’s solution is to almost completely silo the small teams from the larger structure. Their org structure consists of small, autonomous, ephemeral 2-10-person teams that work on discrete projects for 2-10 weeks. After a project is done, the team members join new 2-10-person teams to work on new 2-10-week projects.

Sequential Management

Each team contains a mix of roles necessary for the project (engineers, designers, etc). The team’s lead is simply an engineer appointed to that role for the duration of that project. Because everyone becomes a lead at some point, a respect for the pressures of having that role emerges, and any ill feelings disappear. In fact, Jay Laney joked that promotions to a traditional management role, which focuses solely on optimizing the organization rather than product, what was formerly celebrated with a “Congratulations!” now receives a sympathetic “Sorry for your loss.” The additional benefit of rotating team lead makes it easy to quickly uncover engineers with management potential.

No Code Ownership

Engineers who are able to take on any problem in any part of a large company’s many applications seem hard to come by. The reason they are plentiful at Yammer is the other fertile and somewhat radical (for mid- to large-sized organizations) aspect of this: for the most part, engineers aren’t divided into specialties; every engineer has to be handle working on any part of the codebase at any given time.

This approach benefits greatly from many of the enduring, time-tested advantages of open-source software, another term rarely heard in the enterprise world. First, it imposes a great deal of transparency. One engineer may write the original code for a feature, but as other teams rotate through that code, it undergoes continuous refinement. The lack of code ownership not only removes ego and cultivates the feeling of working as a team, but it prevents “experts” from owning a specific section of code that only they can understand. The bus factor is rarely talked about in OSS for a reason.

Organization Building

Yammer still has upper-level management, but they focus largely on building the organization, not the product. Engineering decisions are left to engineers, not managers, which makes for some very happy engineers and autonomous decision making. Additionally, because managers focus on building an exceptionally strong, cohesive team, that team not only becomes an exceptional asset in building the product, but it also becomes very valuable in the event of an acquisition, and not just from a monetary standpoint.

Consequently, Yammer has remained relatively unchanged following its very appealing acquisition by Microsoft. In fact, it has had a larger impact on its parent company than vice versa, quite a rare feat. Microsoft, seeing the power of Yammer’s organizational structure and tools, has been looking to learn and incorporate the principles into its own projects.

Yammer’s model challenges the belief that monolithic organizations build monolithic products, disorganized organizations build disorganized products, and for an organization to build a nimble, market-leading product in a burgeoning space, it needs to be exceedingly nimble and be able to maintain that agility as it grows. When an enterprise company builds themselves into exactly what enterprise companies aren’t expected to be, they’ll build a product that’s exactly what enterprise products aren’t supposed to be.  And engineering is now slightly less unsexy.

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Adam & Jay present to a sold out crowd at Founders Den on April 3, 2013.

To learn more about our upcoming events, and receive discount codes, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

About Tom
Tom is a product engineer at SocialPandas, where he spends his time on the trivial task of programmatically mapping social media streams onto useful ontologies. He’s been programming since he was a sprout, focusing on the web, but has also worked in everything from research computing to hedge fund analytics. He studied Physics and Music at Wesleyan, but still managed to find himself writing code to complete much of his coursework. A recent NYC transplant, Tom has been thoroughly enjoying the Bay Area and already has the founder battle scars and moderately healthy diet to prove it.

When startups were anything but sexy

end construction2Today little is spoken of the lost years from early 2002 to late 2005 in San Francisco. The years when the SOMA high-rises, now renting at record highs, stood half-constructed as a constant reminder of our paralyzed growth.  The years when nearly all my friends had been laid off, some two or three times. When company culture didn’t mean squat and you just needed to shut up and be thankful you had a job.  When working for a startup was anything but glamorous and not something I bragged about at parties.

More than decade has passed since the bust of 2001 and the ecosystem is again overflowing, this time with a new breed of starry-eyed brogrammers and wantrepreneurs in search of the “startup lifestyle“. I’m told how this era is completely different, often coupled dismissive comments like, “Shipping dog food? Um, duh!”  As if the reasons for the near-decimation of an entire ecosystem can be summed up in a sentence or two. If you weren’t in the Bay Area on the front lines, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend the depth of psychological and economic depression that lay heavy in the Valley for years.  

On August 15, 2000, the startup I worked for laid off 75% of our staff with no notice or severance. I was one of the lucky ones who survived. That is, if by “lucky” you mean shoveling carnage while trying to keep a wounded crew marching forward.  I wouldn’t want to relive it, but I wouldn’t trade it either.  I learned more in those 6 years than most learn in 20 – an experience worthy of its own blog post someday.  In 2004, deep in the bowels of the dark times, I was ready to move on. Craigslist, Monster and Hotjobs had exactly zero job listings for “supersparkle startup generalist” and the thought a corporate gig made my chest seize.  So I went back to school. (Yeah, an MBA, suck it.)

All Hail Web 2.0

Sometime in late 2005, startups started peeking out from the shadows and tiptoeing into the light of the newly christened Web 2.0. The Valley heralded the return with due caution.  Our wounds may have healed, but the scars remained as a reminder to temper our exuberance.  And one magical day in March 2006, just as I feared my pursuit of higher education had been the most horrifically expensive mistake of my life, there it was. Buried among the Haas career site’s endless listing of MBA-jobs-not-for-me was a little 5 person startup in Palo Alto named EchoSign (now Adobe), the perfect home for my sparkling startup superstarness to blossom and thrive.

The Haas career site job listing that led me to EchoSign's revolutionary product and amazing team.

Job listing that led me to EchoSign’s revolutionary product, amazing team, and brilliant cofounder.

Now it’s 2013 and there are signs that the frenzy and exuberance of the past few years have come to bear. So what will happen this time? Could the fallout impact the economy and our collective spirits with the merciless force of 2001? Or will this be a kinder, gentler 2008ish “market correction”?

I will wager only one thing: we the survivors of Web 1.0 stand steadfast at attention. Should nuclear winter come again, our bunkers are stocked with the armor of defensive fund-raising and conservative spending, replete with ample ammunition of innovative products and the artillery to execute.

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About me
gretchendeknikkerA startup junkie to the core, I’ve been launching and growing enterprise SaaS startups and platforms since way back in the last century.  I am the Cofounder & CMO of SocialPandas,  a social selling platform for B2B sales teams. Previously I launched LivePerson’s (LPSNApps Marketplace platform and was an early employee at Genius.com and EchoSign (acquired by Adobe). I love bacon, bourbon, hip hop and all things tech and hold an MBA from UC Berkeley (for which I am still not sorry).

Don’t Call It a Pivot, We’ve Been Here For Years

The following is a guest post by Mark Trang, CEO and Cofounder of SocialPandas.

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Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear

- LL Cool J, “I’m Gonna Knock You Out

Why businesses buy technology solutions (especially enterprise software) hasn’t fundamentally changed in our industry. Sure, there are more servers in the cloud, more SaaS subscriptions, and more smartphones in the workplace, but when you strip away all the technology advances and pricing models, the universal need of all businesses to grow revenue and manage costs remains unchanged.

So why has there so much attention around the “comeback” of enterprise-focused companies the past few months?

The enterprise space hasn’t gotten any sexier; the consumer web space simply became less sexy. Maybe even ugly.

This consumer web “un-sexiness” was led by the fall from grace of a number of high-profile companies like Facebook (when it didn’t achieve it’s stratospheric IPO goals), Groupon, Zynga, and others. The previously invincible “So-Lo-Mo” tagline of many B2C companies has become Not-So-Hot. And the “traction” bar required for follow-on funding (e.g. Series A, Series B) has been raised for consumer web companies.

Modern media (including Silicon Valley media) and financial markets (including startup investors) abhor a vacuum and have compensated with more attention and investment in more favorable markets, specifically the enterprise category. Even the talent pool of startup engineers and designers is also reflecting this shift of sentiment; I’ve recently spoken to dozens of candidates that are now open to roles at enterprise-focused companies like ours because their consumer web companies have hit a wall. These same folks would have shunned us 6-12 months ago in favor of founding/joining a pick-your-flavor-of-consumer-web startup. This phenomenon isn’t necessarily because these candidates love enterprise software but because they are now skeptical of ad-supported and e-commerce business models; they simply covet greener grass.

This field of greener grass has been shaped by a list of top performing 2012 IPOs led by B2B-focused companies including Workday, ServiceNow, Palo Alto Networks, Eloqua, and Splunk. 2013 is shaping up to be no different as many B2B leaders are all on the path to an IPO. The result? Early-stage investors are shifting their energy to enterprise-focused startups. Some have been investing in enterprise startups all along; others are now compensating (read: pivoting) for being overweight on too many struggling consumer web companies. This is causing a chain reaction where some startup teams are focusing on/pivoting towards the enterprise space to avoid the taint of “being a consumer web company” and has a secondary effect of a frothy rise in enterprise startup valuations.

What makes enterprise so different and seemingly resilient when compared to the consumer web world? I’d argue….nothing extraordinary.

The Business of Helping Businesses

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Abacus: first enterprise mobile device

Believe it or not, Apple didn’t invent the first enterprise mobile device and Excel wasn’t the first spreadsheet tool.

Many people forget that enterprise-focused tech companies of today have been doing what thousands of others have been doing for thousands of years: delivering tools and services to help other companies grow faster, cut costs, keep customers happy, and ultimately outperform competitors. Nothing special, right?

In fact, the business of providing tools and infrastructure for businesses is as old as the concept of business itself; in some cases, those supplying the proverbial “picks and shovels” in support of new industries end up as successful as the companies they sell to.

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Economic tablet: first accounting app

The earliest business “apps” date back thousands of years to support the most basic of business functions: accounting. Whether it was was counting crop yields or livestock, the practice of keeping track of stuff for business purposes exists today in the form of databases and ERP applications. In fact, many of the largest software companies in the world provide some form of accounting functionality. Coincidence?

So if enterprise apps have such a long history, how and when did consumer-oriented businesses become en vogue?

Who’s B2C’s Daddy?

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Trade and commerce has been the foundation of modern civilization. Societies specialized in the production/distribution of certain goods/services which were traded with neighboring societies.

Over the past century, a shift from agrarian/industrial to information economies occurred in most of today’s first-world countries. Fewer and fewer people were tending fields and working in factories. Instead they joined the “white-collar” ranks of today’s information workers. This shift allowed for more people than ever to have both the increased time and income to enjoy discretionary goods/services, giving rise to the world of mass consumerism. Much of this shift was made possible by workplace automation which led to higher labor productivity. Only then did advertising and ad-supported business models (e.g. TV, radio, newspapers) become necessary, possible, and commonplace. Modern day ad-supported and e-commerce consumer web apps are an evolution of this. Because more people have more time than ever to be consumers, a whole host of products and services sprouted up around them to capture their time and money. And in the past decade, the internet has become the ultimate place where consumers could do both.

In a world where we are brainwashed as individual consumers to embrace things that are entertaining and trendy, we favor tales of overnight winner-take-all success vs. stories of ordinary accomplishments. We are addicted to home runs, not high on-base percentages. We celebrate the feeling of hitting the Powerball jackpot, not achieving modest but consistent returns from a mutual fund. We’ve been trained to be lean hackers, not pursue the longer conventional path.

So perhaps it’s not unreasonable to consider the way our preferences and tastes in our personal lives and modern popular culture are influencing and reinforcing our opinions of startup markets. This may explain why popular media (and frequently the VC community) been enamored with consumer web startups, despite their relative youth (in terms of the history and the actual age of founding teams).

When consumer web startups realize they won’t ever get an Instagram-type exit or can’t explain how they will ever generate revenue, their world starts to look more like Bravo’s “reality-show” version of Silicon Valley than the true story of how Silicon Valley really got it’s name. This isn’t a surprise since unlike Marc Zuckerberg, Robert Noyce never had a Hollywood movie made about him.

Living and working in the heart of this startup community in San Francisco, I’ve overheard many recent grumbles from consumer web entrepreneurs that it’s time for them to “go B2B” (meaning “back-to-business” or “back-to-basics” in their parlance) so they can “get traction” and raise their next round of funding. Their assumption is that pivoting towards the “ordinary” world of enterprise apps is less-risky and therefore easier to get traction/generate revenue. This couldn’t be farther from the truth (which I will cover in a future post).

For many of us in the B2B world, there is no “back-to-anything” since we’ve been here all along. And it’s not a pivot if you’ve always been moving in the same direction.

About Mark
Now CEO and Cofounder of SocialPandas, Mark started his software career as a webmaster at a time when many believed the world would end because of the Y2K bug. More recently, Mark was an early member of Salesforce.com’s platform team where he helped launch the Force.com platform and grow the AppExchange ecosystem. Mark was also VP & GM of Platform Technologies for LivePerson, where he launched and grew their API business. Mark was also an early employee at several SaaS startups and an enterprise software consultant at Deloitte. If there was a Noodle-of-The-Week Club, he’d be their supreme chairman and create a Michelin Star-equivalent rating system of the world’s top ramen joints. Mark holds a BA and MBA from UCLA.

 

Rebooting the Knowledge Navigator

The following is a guest post by David Gleason, Silicon Valley veteran and storyteller extraordinaire.

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Disrupting the Enterprise Experience by Starting with the User

After 30 years in the high-tech industry, I’ve come to believe that one of the great disruptions has been the transformation of the computer user, from someone who needed assistance, to the one who is calling the shots. No longer the passenger, the user is now in the driver’s seat and is setting the course. Successful entrepreneurs are those who, like the old joke about leadership, see a parade and run to the front of it, yelling, “follow me!”

In today’s enterprise, the user has evolved from being the source of input to the recipient of any desired output, anywhere, anytime without “directions.” This is part of what makes enterprise software so sexy at this stage – you can do almost anything with it, and you don’t need hand holding to get your work done.

When I entered this world as a technical writer in the 1980s, a knowledgeable friend, Rich Miller, told me: “The best way to create software is to start with the user manual — write what the program is supposed to do first, and then make the software conform to that.” He emphasized that this almost never happens, but it should — and the result would be a wonderfully easy-to-use product.

Today, the manuals are mostly gone, and in their place we are seeing an incredible explosion of user-centered design in areas that have long been hostile to the non-technical user. Giants like IBM, Oracle and SAP are improving the user experience on their systems, hosting content and forums on their websites,  and releasing smart phone apps that are snappy and cool and easy to use.

Small companies are carving successful businesses out of niche markets that once were the hidden domain of IT departments, like the help desk (Zendesk), travel and expenses (Concur), file sharing (Box), social collaboration (Jive) and many others.

Three decades ago, the question an entrepreneur was likely to ask was: Which markets or functions are most underserved by enterprise software?

Today those wishing to disrupt the enterprise software world are asking: which users are underserved by this same software, by the user experience, in fact, by the overall methodology used by the big enterprise software providers?

My personal experience tells me that the user has been put in control with the rise of the Internet, the browser and most recently, the smartphone with its apps, ecosystem, and “always on and at hand” availability.

Making Sense of Command-line Applications

My first job in the early 1980s was as a technical writer at ASK Computer Systems, a disruptive company in Silicon Valley that provided software for manufacturers to track costs, parts and projections. Customers included startups Compac, Sun Microsystems and Kurzweil.  The product, called ManMan (for manufacturing management), ran on HP 3000 and VAX 750 mini-computers which you accessed through terminals. Mini-computers were the disruptive hardware of their day, requiring far less expense than mainframes.

Using the ManMan system involved command-line data entry and multiple choice options, and the documentation was critical to understanding the product, how to use it and also how to track the constant software upgrades. Our pubs group cranked out thick binders of documentation, and we shipped updates to customers with individual pages containing edits that could be inserted into the binders.

In those days, the IBM PC was still a very new thing, underpowered and also command-line based. There were very few apps – unless you wrote them yourself. A big part of the tech writer’s job was to understand the user as someone who was mystified by technology. This meant explaining things in clear and simple language that most anyone could understand. Good documentation and training courses were essential to making enterprise software work.

The Rise of the GUI

The next disruption came with the rise of the graphical user interface (GUI) as a new and exciting approach to making computers both more visually rich and much easier to use. The operative word became “intuitive,” meaning you didn’t need to read the manual … at least in theory.In fact, Apple’s first Macintosh User Guide actually showed the reader how to “click and drag” with red arrows and detailed written instructions, since most users had no idea what it meant.

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“Click and drag” in the first Macintosh User Guide

Microsoft was converting command-line DOS to visually richer Windows as the computing choice for millions of enterprise workers, growing its developer platform and providing programming tools that encouraged software engineers to create thousands of powerful and useful apps that were easier to use, better at displaying information, and more timely than anything that ran on mainframes or mini-computers and required dumb terminals for display.

In 1992 — 3 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall — I attended Esther Dyson’s East-West High Tech Forum in Prague, along with hundreds of excited young entrepreneurs and engineers turned business people from Eastern European countries like Poland and Hungary.  Their world had been disrupted, state enterprises were being privatized and markets were being created in front of our eyes.

At a lunchtime presentation, Bob Epstein, VP of Sybase, showed the audience a database screen full of numbers, then converted it to a map of an oil pipeline where he clicked on a location and pulled up the information on flow and volume. He said, “we have to stop making the work look like the data, and make the data look like the work.” Now this was revolutionary! And very disruptive — you could actually make data look like something in real life.

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David at the 1992 East West Conference

Soon, all the big database companies including Oracle, Sybase, IBM and others, were moving to a rich GUI for easier use but also to be able to display more data.

The World-Wide Web

By 1995, we had shed the terminals, command lines and binders. It was all about the PC, shrink-wrapped applications and paperback books as Windows 95 took center-stage. Tim Berners-Lee had created the HTTP protocol and the World Wide Web;  the Internet is poised to become the next engine of disruption.

What I find most interesting is the way so many pieces came together and coincided with key turning points in hardware, software, business and even the fall of empires and the rise of new nations and markets. A new generation of users was accustomed to computing technology from their earliest years, so software developers could  keep adding features and functionality. As the Web expanded, the skills learned on the PC were transferred to the browser and the desktop computer was the single device for most users most of the time.

Everything at Your Fingertips

Today, the shrink-wrapped boxes of application software are largely a thing of the past. PC sales are flat and smart phones and tablets are growing at many multiples faster rate. Users are demanding much more than easy-to-use apps; they want massive amounts of dynamic, meaningful data at their fingertips — data that is relevant to whatever they are doing, and where ever they are, right now.

The enterprise services that power these apps have become quite amazing in their scope and power, but once again, we are seeing the best and most successful services are those that provide the easiest, most intuitive experience to users.  A great new service like Box.com is much more than file sharing — it’s an easy-to-learn experience because it builds on what most users already understand — the Web model of file access integrated with Tasks, Message, Chat and Group Collaboration — and lets you do things that you otherwise couldn’t do, and you can do them on any device or platform.

This time around the focus isn’t so much on teaching the user, but more on catching up with what the user has been wanting now for a while. So while the User Experience is still central, it’s a much more experienced, mature and sophisticated user that is demanding these new accommodations.

What does the future hold?

Twenty five years ago, Apple created a model of what the user experience could be like when data was abundant and accessible. It was called the Knowledge Navigator and the user simply told the computer what he wanted, and the system figured out where to find what was needed.

If you look at the trajectory of the past 3 decades, it’s hard not to conclude that the power of the user will grow, perhaps exponentially. I can see a future where the user no longer has to navigate applications or websites. Rather, we could be entering an age where the user simply tells a system or network of systems what she wants to do and the smart system finds the right tool for the job. It’s the realization of the Knowledge Navigator vision, an extension of making the data look like the work – and in an age of rich, dynamic, smart data, what could be more logical and useful than a system that can take your command and execute your wishes?

What are your thoughts on where the user experience is going?

 About David
David is a writer and senior content manager specializing in developer marketing and technical content creation for platforms, APIs and mobile. He has a life-long interest in the dynamics of change. His greatest thrill was meeting Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov in Moscow in 1988 with Apple executives on the 20th anniversary of the publication of Sakharov’s unauthorized book, Progress,  Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom. Sakharov’s book was a starting point for the social, political and economic upheaval that led to the fall of the Soviet Union, certainly a major disruption in world history.

In startups, MBA is a four-letter word

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Image courtesy of ecquire

Last week my company, SocialPandas, was part of the inaugural class presenting at the Alchemist Accelerator’s demo day. Breaking with the predominantly B2C models, Alchemist is focused solely on enterprise startups.

As we wrap up the six month program, I’ve been looking back at our journey since inception in late 2011. Early on when we considered programs like YC and AngelPad, we knew we didn’t easily fit the blueprint. Two business founders with MBAs [egads, NO!] and a CTO who has been coding for 33 yrs [is he in the computer history museum?], all well over the age of 30 building for the enterprise [oh sorry, I fell asleep]. We’re not standard accelerator material, and frankly, that’s for the best. A group fresh-faced techies need a completely different type of program than a battle-hardened veteran crew turned first-time founders. I’m confident I can learn something from any founder, but I’ll get the most relevant advice from those who’ve already walked a mile in my shoes and lived to tell the tale. I will say Alchemist delivered in spades on that front. (Kudos, Ravi.)

Like most accelerators, Alchemist’s must-have criteria for admission is a “distinctive technical founder.” Even with the new enterprise renaissance where business execution is critical, the highly disproportionate weighting of technical vs. business founders and the debate of education vs. experience remains the same.  It confounds me that these discussions exist at all because my answer to “What do I need to create a successful company?” is E) All of the above.

On the education vs. experience debate, I can see merit in both arguments. I feel fortunate to have both. I’m the first to admit I find many MBAs loathsome (and vice versa). And while I don’t go around broadcasting my four-letter word degree, you’ll never hear me apologize for it either. I worked my butt off to get from the trailer park to a Top 10 business school. The only thing I’m sorry for is those who summarily dismiss what that demonstrates about my drive, intellect, and character. Want to invest your time and money in someone who appreciates the value of a dollar and will fight to the death to make her dreams a reality? You found her.

As a business founder, I fully appreciate the impact of a strong technical founder, but I fail to see these skills as mutually exclusive nor can they exist in a vacuum. You can build the most elegant, powerful product ever, but if no one ever uses it or it can’t be monetized in a sustainable way, does it really matter? Someone can mockup PowerPoints and sell vaporware for only so long before investors and customers wanna get their hands on the real deal. Why is this the value of one over the other even a question? You can’t build a sustainable business without both.

To be clear, I am absolutely not suggesting business founders get a free pass to be technically illiterate or should go to business school. Likewise, I wouldn’t work with a founding engineer who can’t do a basic sales pitch. It’s your company, you better be able to sell it to investors and customers. And my advice to anyone weighing business school or starting a company against something else: pick the alternative.  If there’s hesitation, it’s not the right time for you to do either, especially becoming a founder.

I will say that my two year investment in grad school was a good one, as was working for multiple startups before founding my own. Business school helped me sort out and solidify what I’d learned haphazardly on the job during the boom and bust. And there is absolutely no substitute for the experience gained sitting in the front car of the startup roller coaster through good times and bad. If all that still lands me in the “nice to have” bucket until I teach myself Python nights and weekends, so be it.

Because Money is Sexy

Denis PombriantThe following is a guest post by Denis Pombriant, CRM industry analyst, author, and CEO of Beagle Research Group.

Why is enterprise sexy again? I take a long view of the question and position it within a macroeconomic trend.  The short answer is that enterprise software is sexy again because its time has come around again.  But here are some details to consider:

  1. More than anywhere else, enterprises live and die on the saying that they spend money for only two reasons: To make money and/or To save it.  So we are witnessing a paradigm shift, which your question alludes to.  Conventional, or I suppose we must call it legacy, enterprise software was built for a paradigm whose major attributes included client-server as state of the art, manufacturing as the primary business activity and one size fits all products.  That’s all gone.
  2. We are also at the end of a macroeconomic wave often called a Kondratieve Wave, or K-wave for short, whose major attribute was information technology (IT) as a competitive tool.  IT has become so much embedded in the fabric of business that it is no longer a disruptive innovation or differentiator.  You either have IT or you go out of business.
  3. The end of a K-wave usually brings a collapse of prices as everything commoditizes.  As your products lose their ability to command high margins, your only choice is to get lean or go home.  Companies that elect to go lean use information technology to shave cost.  Big companies need more technology than any others.
  4. The end of a K-wave (which can last 50-60 years) implies a new beginning.  But it takes time for a new wave to spin up to the point where it can support the huge demands of the enterprise.  Salesforce and NetSuite are each over ten years old and only in recent years have they become successful at penetrating the early adopters of the enterprise.  Social solutions are less than ten years old.  Twitter was founded in 2006 and Facebook in 2004.  It has taken a long time for them to scale to be able to support enterprise volumes and equally long to demonstrate value to the enterprise.
  5. The new enterprise business processes that will demand increasing amounts of these and other technologies are only now being built out.  Until there were tools resident in the cloud, able to collect and crunch massive amounts of data it was futile to try to imagine new business processes but now imagination can take wing.  A great example is Zuora, which has invented subscription management.  Zuora couldn’t have been imagined until cloud computing and SaaS became successful and companies became aware of the pain of doing business in a subscription world with manufacturing oriented ERP systems.  See my book, “The Subscription Economy: How Subscriptions Improve Business” and pay attention to the last chapter on metrics.  Most of the metrics don’t even make sense if all you know is ERP.

So, why is the enterprise sexy again?  Its time has come again.  There is a new business paradigm to be addressed and there is money to be made and saved by those who get there first.  Enterprise is sexy because money is.

About Denis
Denis Pombriant the founder and managing principal of Beagle Research Group, LLC.  His work appears in most major CRM publications both in print and online, in North America and in Europe.  His new research on social media adoption and benefits with Esteban Kolsky was published in August.  His new book, “The Subscription Economy — How Subscriptions Improve Business” is available on Amazon.  Pombriant is always working on a book and he maintains an active research, writing and speaking calendar.  He lives and works near Boston.

Special thanks to Craig Rosenberg, CEO and Editor of Funnelholic Media for connecting us with Denis.