I was thrilled to hear the success of TK and his ToutApp yesterday, when they announced raising of $15m of Series B funding from Andreessen Horowitz. But how could success of one party can bring clarity to an unconnected party? Let’s start the story from the beginning, shall we?
In November 2011, I visited San Francisco to attend the first ever The Small Business Web Summit held at eBay offices in San Jose, California. Then I hustled myself into a conference held at Microsoft (cannot remember what it was called), where I bumped into TK and his ToutApp. What got my attention at the time was not ToutApp, but a problem we were both trying to tackle, the ultimate unified address book. I was fascinated to hear TK’s involvement in development of Plaxo and why he thought the job was not finished. Later on I dabbled with CRMPlus, and effort to build a thin address book layer which could be plugged into SaaS software. I had to abandon the project due to one team mate lagging behind to avoid a recurrent of “another edocr”.
From there on, I trialled Tout from time to time, but never really became a customer due to none of my businesses adopting a direct sales strategy.
So where does the clarity comes from? But first where is the problem?
Since setting up UnifiedVU, I’ve struggled to focus on selecting a specific problem to solve. In addition, who would we solve this problem for? The early research suggested that this would be senior management, and sales and marketing folks, rather than operational teams. We knew from the successful implementation at Causeway Technologies that Single Customer View is a worthy solution to focus on.
The Salesforce Dilemma
As we started to engage with potential customers and the wider community, we continue to hear stories of why sales folks love and hate their CRM. Whilst they like the information it gives, they really dislike the need to enter and update information, especially on Salesforce as it has become the Siebel of yesteryears.
Scott Weiss articulates this issue very well indeed in hist post about why he is joining the Board of ToutApp. We’ve also met organisations which has multiple disconnected Salesforce implementations where exchange of information has become a nightmare.
The SaaS Dilemma
Within the Software-as-a-Business (SaaS) market, the new trend is to focus on a small but specific problem and then build a product to solve it, just as ToutApp has done. But over time, every one of these products become bloated as they scale and attempt to increase revenue per customer. After few years, they become the incumbents only to be disrupted by new entrants, with ever trendy User Interfaces (UI). A cycle that seems to happen almost every five years, and now becoming even more frequent.
A good example is Pipedrive. When it was launched, it focused on the Sales Pipeline View, now its a much bloated solution in competition with small Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. We’ve met potential customers who are using both CRM and Pipedrive, and plethora of others to solve specific small problems. Inspiration for our Sales Pipeline View came from these discussions.
No need to replace Software
We believe there is another way! Your CRM has to remain the bedrock of your sales organisation. Software at its simplest comes down to data and functionality. With functionality, data becomes information, on which you begin to make decisions. Getting data in and out is harder due to how software is built. This is where UnifiedVU comes into play. We can re-skin any software application, where its legacy, on-premise or SaaS. We can now rebuild the presentation layer, aka the UI and User Experience (UX) layer, you as an individual need to do your job effectively without having to replace your existing software. And with this, your productivity should increase and thereby the underlying revenues and profits of your organisation.
Two more Gems!
In Scott’s blog post he also highlight how important it was that his organisation and his portfolio companies were already championing ToutApp. By doing so, ToutApp has become an indispensable piece of software for Andreessen Horowitz ecosystem, and thereby becoming a natural investment opportunity. I believe all techstartups can learn from this.
The second is the story of TK starting with Steven Steffen. The general consensus is that you are bound to failure if you start as a single founder and especially if you cannot code. In my case, I have never been lucky to find a solid founding team. All my 8 ventures have been based on my ideas and I felt and acted to see them through as far as I could. In two cases, I pulled the plug to remove recurrence of edocr. What has worked for me is employing staff. And this time I am lucky that Asinsala from edocr team has joined me to build UnifiedVU. We are now looking for two more, a developer and a UI/UX god!
I wish TK and his team every success, and will continue to watch and learn from their progress.
Credits: Photos and images taken from ToutApp website and twitter feed