Category Archives: SaaS

SaaS Freemium Models and the Hidden Cost of Free

SaaS Freemium Models and the Hidden Cost of Free

SaaS Freemium Models

We’ve all been lured into sexy “try before you buy” freemium models that provide just the right amount of functionality to get you started. Yet, it’s not quite enough to complete the job. “Getting the job done” often requires stepping up to a paid or premium version that provides more functionality, capabilities and rewards.

As much as we’d like to believe to the contrary, the old adage is time tested. “There is no free lunch.”

lunch-time

(Image Source: Shutterstock)

Free” more often than not implies trade-off. The trick is to balance these tradeoffs to ensure that your purchase delivers a net positive for your business. Anything less than “free” becomes a misnomer.

For the consumer, this model makes sense for apps that aren’t mission critical. You can preview and buy. If the full version doesn’t meet your needs then you shut it down and move to another application that works better. Switching costs are low. No harm. No foul. No one (but you) is the wiser.

Lately, and somewhat surprisingly, “free” or close to it, has also been applied to larger ticket items – like enterprise software solutions – that have far-reaching and deeper functional capabilities than the latest gee-whiz game or social application. To entice you, some vendors are offering a “free” one-year license or subscription. In these cases, buyer beware of a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing.

Do Your Diligence

Before committing to a “free” solution, it’s worth conducting some due diligence.

Here are some questions that every buyer should ask:

  • When free isn’t free: What are the additional costs involved? What are the implementation hours, integration costs, migration costs, operational costs, and opportunity costs? In a typical enterprise project, licenses or SaaS subscription cost is only a portion of the overall expense. There is implementation and integration, training and roll out. More importantly, there is opportunity cost. Will your business run better with this solution or with another that is not “free”? Finally, which solution maximizes your time to market the competitive edge you are attempting to gain?
  • There’s more than meets the eye: Ask about hidden costs like professional services charges, forced requirements that requires your business to conform to basic capabilities, lock-up, and switching costs. And, will the product still meet your needs after the initial “free” term has expired? Will you have more options and greater flexibility with another solution?
  • A look behind the strategy: When companies are selling a “free” or “free-for-a-year” solution they are planning to do one of four things:
  1. Use the “free” portion as a loss leader, banking on your long-term success for increased contract values and back-end revenue.
  2. Working to gain market momentum with a flurry of new logos and win announcements.
  3. Lock you into their solution because the implicit and/or explicit change cost makes switching a hassle or worse.
  4. Compete on things other than the solution’s benefits, quality, and value. What do these strategies say about their business and their long-term business goals? And, where does each strategy leave you?
  • Free” isn’t a guarantee of happy-ever after: Purchasing an enterprise solution is like getting married. You want a partner who will be with you for the long term, who will support you, enable you, and grow with you as your needs change. Careful that your “free” solution isn’t a 1 night stand that leaves a six Tylenol hangover. Enterprise solutions need to work over the long term. You are investing not only in software, but in a company that needs to perform over the long haul. Make sure the company is someone you want to partner with and that the “free” product is worth the long-term investment. As Neil Sedaka reminds us, “Breaking up is hard to do.”

Free is rarely free. A “free-for-now” solution might look appealing but initial attractions can run thin after repeated attempts to fix problem areas.
The rule in painting (gardening, remodeling, and countless other DIY projects) can also be applied here: It’s 90% preparation and 10% application. Do your homework upfront. In the end, it might just save you from a costly change order.

By Tom Dibble

Startups Changing the Face of Africa

Startups Changing the Face of Africa

Africa Startup Growth

Disrupt Africa’s recently-released African Tech Startups Funding Report found that 29.6% of African startup investment went to fintech startups last year, totaling more than $55 million. But though this category seems to be dominating the startup market, and for good reason, the African continent is turning out a variety of innovative startups developed by pioneering entrepreneurs and backed by shrewd investors. And while many African banks find themselves on the back foot with an industry ripe for disruption, a few banking giants including Barclays, Citi, and Chase Bank have embarked on collaborative schemes rather than fighting the winning trend.

Fintech Startups in Africa

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Although a global trend towards fintech startups has been seen in recent years, Africa’s reasons for increased fintech funding are particularly evident. Approximately 80% of the continent’s population doesn’t have access to formal financial services, and fintech startups are quickly moving in to fill this void. Moreover, Africans have already demonstrated their willingness to adopt original methods of transaction; consider M-Pesa’s vast success with transactions reaching $656 million in 2014, and predicted to double over the next four years. Says Akinola Jones, co-founder of fintech startup Aella Credit, “The current operating expenses of the large banks are way too high and fintech companies provide a more specialized approach to tackling financial inclusion. Africa is 100 years behind in terms of its citizens having access to credit. Data analytics, identity verification, payment systems and mobile phone access will change that and spur growth on a sector by sector basis.

Tech Startups in Africa

A major provider of employment in Africa, technology is altering the face of Africa, and in 2015 African tech startups raised about $185 million in funding. Jumia, launched in Lagos, Nigeria in 2012, is an online marketplace serving 15 African countries, valued at slightly above $1 billion. Ghana’s Dropifi is an online tool helping businesses monitor and evaluate customer feedback and was named the best startup in the Global Startup Open Competition in the USA. meQasa, also out of Ghana, utilizes cloud tools to modernize real estate transactions with their innovative platform that cuts out the need for physical meetings, and SafeMotos is a Rwandan online motorbike calling app that provides access to and payment for motorbike transportation via smartphones.

The Challenges African Tech Startups Face

But just because the continent is ripe for innovation doesn’t mean the road is an easy one for startups. There is limited access to financing, with some reports suggesting an overwhelming 85% of small businesses are underfunded, and the weak infrastructure that motivates many of the startup ideas is both inspiration and obstacle. Confusing and ever-evolving political, regulatory, and trading laws are further barriers, just as globalization presents the catch 22 of opportunity and foreign competition. Next Einstein Fellow Axel Ngonga, originally from Cameroon, believes that a revolution in innovative thinking is necessary and questions how the development of products is catered to societal needs.

Boasting as much possibility as adversity, the African continent seems determined to succeed; business leaders and innovators, financiers and venture capitalists, are coming together in new and exciting endeavors, and initiatives such as the Innotribe Startup Challenge and MasterCard’s Start Path program are helping them map the road to victory.

 

By Jennifer Klostermann

Sources:

http://disrupt-africa.com/2016/03/why-african-fintech-startups-are-so-attractive-to-investors
http://disrupt-africa.com/2016/03/5-banks-backing-tech-startups-in-africa
http://venturesafrica.com/the-biggest-challenge-facing-new-businesses-in-africa-is-financing

Containers as a Service – The Ins and Outs

Containers as a Service – The Ins and Outs

Containers as a Service

Containers as a Service (CaaS), not to be confused with Content as a Service (CaaS), Communication as a Service (CaaS), or Cloud as a Service (CaaS), is a form of container-based virtualization wherein container engines and the core compute resources are delivered to users as a service from a cloud provider. Containers as a Service allows users to upload, organize, scale, run, manage, and stop containers through a provider’s API calls or web portal interface, and as with most cloud service providers, they pay only for the resources they use (load balancing, compute instances, scheduling capabilities, etc.).

Goodbye, SaaS?

Falling somewhere in between Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), Containers as a Service is typically positioned as a subset of IaaS, and some industry specialists believe it signals the end of Software as a Service (SaaS). One drawback of SaaS is the contracts negotiated early on which are predictably multi-year and user count based, oftentimes negating the ‘pay as you use’ benefit of SaaS. Further muddying the finance waters, SaaS expenses are accounted as operating expenses, affecting EBITDA, while on-premise software is considered a capital expense. Another difficulty enterprises are facing with SaaS is that they often find themselves with restricted access to their own data as vendors meter access based on user counts and API purchases, forcing companies to pay for scaled access to their data.

Docker Containers

docker

The new generation of Docker-powered containers are easy to learn, and with the ability to separate an application, microservices, and their configuration from the principal Linux operating system, Docker containers are very appealing. Three of the major could providers, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft provide Constrainers as a Service allowing any Docker container to run on their platforms, and Docker Inc. recently released Docker Datacenter, a subscription-based platform and support service enabling companies to run Docker-based Containers as a Service for building, deploying, and managing containerized applications and infrastructure.

Could a CaaS Evolution Mend SaaS?

With a little innovation, Containers as a Service could evolve into Containers as a Service for Independent Software Vendors, offering a world wherein organizations rent applications or purchase software and then run it either in the public or private cloud, as best suits their needs. While software would automatically be maintained by vendors, companies would control their data, as well as vendor access. This new model could ensure software customers have the best of both SaaS and on-premise solutions including complete visibility, full data ownership, tightly controlled security, and flexibility. Already a few startups including Sapho, tray.io, Replicated, and Infradash are offering their own innovative angles.

Notes analyst Janakiram MSV, “Containers as a Service is becoming the new Platform as a Service. With the interest in containers and microservices skyrocketing among developers, cloud providers are capitalizing on the opportunity through hosted container management services.” Thanks to programs such as the Open Container Initiative, an industry trend towards conforming to container standards is developing, suggesting future users will have access to the greatest choice and flexibility to best suit their needs.

By Jennifer Klostermann

How Netflix Is Using Big Data To Create Better, Successful Shows

How Netflix Is Using Big Data To Create Better, Successful Shows

How Netflix is using Big Data

When every TV network in America refused to telecast even the pilot season of House of Cards, the show’s creators turned to Netflix. The online streaming service believed so much in the show that they shelled $100 million for the first two seasons.

On February 1, 2013, when the show debuted its first season on Netflix, it was an immediate hit, and it continues to do so with its current season four. But was all that a coincidence? What made Netflix invest $100 million in an original show which was something they hadn’t done before.

The Big Data Game

Just like all the other e-commerce websites, Netflix too monitors user data. It picks up on things like – at what time you watch action, horror and humour, which scenes make you forward the video and which ones make you do a rewind, at which point you pause a video or stop it altogether and whether you watch Netflix on your TV, laptop or your phone. And that’s not all, according to Variety, Netflix also scans piracy websites to check what’s doing well online.

If you are a Netflix user, and you didn’t know about it, then we strongly suggest going back and reading the terms and agreements of Netflix.

Now, coming back to House of Cards, when Netflix got this proposal, they used Big Data to determine if the show would be a success or not. In their research, they found out that people already loved Kevin Spacey and the British version of the show. People were also fond of the director, David Fincher, who had previously shot The Social Network. When the numbers came in, there was a strong correlation and Netflix was sure that House of Cards was going to be a big hit.

Are statistics more important than creativity?

When the news about Netflix using big data broke out, many critics started talking about how the company was abusing data and hindering creativity. According to them, if big data can decide the actor, story and the director of the show then what would stop it from deciding the dialogues and the cinematography of the show?

Well, the answer isn’t as simple. Even though Netflix used big data to determine if House of Cards would be a hit, in no way did the online streaming service try to decide what kind dialogues would go into the show. In fact, if Netflix had to go completely with the statistics, they wouldn’t have agreed to Kevin Spacey talking directly to the camera. This tactic is called breaking the fourth wall, which was present in the British version of the show but it is not very common for American TV shows or movies.

Cloudtweaks-Comic-3d-printing

And we have to remember that this is the same streaming service that came out with shows like Orange is the New Black and Jessica Jones. While OITNB would create a big stir if it were telecasted on cable TV, Jessica Jones is the first Marvel Superhero with a gritty and a grey side, and she has no fancy costume.

Final Word

Let’s be honest for a minute – nobody likes to invest big bucks in something and fail. If you have a brilliant technology like big data to use and predict the results, then you are going to use it and reap its benefits.

By Ritika Tiwari

Weighing in on Recurring Revenues to Tip Your Business’ Scale

Weighing in on Recurring Revenues to Tip Your Business’ Scale

Tip Your Business’ Scale

CEOs, investors, analysts, and business advisors have fallen in love with the recurring revenue business model. In fact, when comparing like software companies, Wall Street gives 2x higher valuations for businesses with successful recurring revenue models in place. It’s no wonder that research indicates 50% of US businesses have already adopted or are considering to adopt a recurring revenue business model.

And why not? Recurring revenue is more predictable than one‐time sales.

The Fast Track

Global 5,000 public companies are quickly moving to transform via recurring revenue models. Here’s why: suppose you run a $100 million company and 90 percent of that is recurring revenue. When the next year starts, you can count on $90 million in repeat revenue and only need to book $10 million in new sales to reach last year’s level. If you run a $100 million non‐recurring revenue business, you start at zero every year and need to book the entire $100 million each time.

Significant competitive advantages exist with recurring revenue models that can adjust to meet changing market demands. Compare the fates of two movie rental companies: subscription‐based goliath Netflix and once‐mighty Blockbuster, a company that relied on one‐time transactions.

netflix-subscription

(Image Source: Statista)

As customer demands and preferences shifted towards new technological advancements, Netflix soared and Blockbuster headed for bankruptcy. Customers clearly preferred the convenience of Netflix’s distribution methods and the cost advantages of a recurring revenue model, which enabled the company to develop a rapidly expanding and predictable business.

Beyond Basic Billing

Recurring revenue models offer advantages that go beyond predictable streams:

  • Capability to scale revenues with costs
  • Lower cost of sales
  • Added bundling potential
  • Higher customer lifetime value
  • Exponential growth and valuation

Who doesn’t want that?

Yet, with the added flexibility and increased benefits of recurring revenue models also comes added complexity that can trickle down into every aspect of managing customers and products. Keep in mind that while the model is compelling, failing to manage its hidden complexities can negate the benefits.

business-meet

Many mistakenly view recurring revenue as just basic subscription billing, like paying for a time-honored magazine subscription. But recurring revenues come in many flavors: basic subscriptions, usage-based, tiered, and hybrid models to name a few. As a result, recurring revenue management may be one of the most misunderstood concepts in the business world. Many managers think of recurring revenue management as repeat customer orders handled by the billing department, with printers spewing out invoice after invoice, while the accounts receivables manager sends out an occasional collection email. If it were only that simple.

Smart businesses, on the other hand, realize that taking advantage of recurring revenue setups require technology that not only handles the bill, but also monetizes their products and services over time.

Go All in: Manage Every Revenue Moment

Bill handling is just the start. To maximize recurring revenue, companies need to manage the complete customer relationship rather than the discrete transaction. The goal is to engage with the customer over the course of years or even decades. To effectively manage the relationship you must manage every customer interaction or “revenue moment”. Since every interaction has the potential to add profits or lose customers, management is critical.

The good news is recurring revenue businesses have ample opportunities to manage these moments. Here are some revenue moments that should be managed and accompanying actions that could be taken:

  • Customer acquisitions – introduce attractive bundles or offers
  • Product and service delivery – add the option for support packages
  • Management and rating of usage – give the opportunity to upgrade plans when usage nears its threshold
  • Financial interactions – alert customers of expiring credit cards to avoid service disruptions
  • Data interactions – offer new features or services based on data usage with upsells and cross-sells

By focusing on the relationship versus the transaction, you can proactively guide a positive customer experience into a loyal, long-term partnership.

A Paradigm Shift in the Back Office

When embarking on a recurring revenue model, you should rethink how you currently price, package, and manage revenue. To build a successful recurring revenue management system, “normal” communications and billing systems must also change. What’s traditionally relegated to back office operations should move into the front office, driven by the focus on the customer relationship.

Hop aboard. The recurring revenue implementation journey may be windy, but the end destination is worth its weight in gold.

By Tom Dibble

Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings

Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings

Global Startup Ecosystem Rankings

Compass, formerly the startup Genome, released their 2015 Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking with a revamped component index using five major components: Performance, funding, talent, market reach, and startup experience. Unsurprisingly, Silicon Valley tops the list, and in fact, the US dominates the top ten rankings. But many regions globally are fighting for their own places on the list, as Canada positions itself firmly in the late teens, Australia makes a show with Sydney at 16, and the European continent boasts several hubs including London at 6, Berlin at 9, and Paris at 11. It should be noted, Compass’ index does not include startup ecosystems from China, Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea due to challenges in acquiring survey participants and complete data.

SER_2015_ranking_table_Final

(Survey Source: Compass.co)

Socioeconomic Impact of Startup Ecosystems

The Compass research points to a global phenomenon of tech entrepreneurship with startup ecosystems emerging rapidly worldwide. Today’s tech entrepreneurs have all of the necessary tools and resources at their fingertips, as well as the market conditions to scale companies to billion dollar enterprises faster than ever before. States Compass, “Given technology startups’ critical role in the information economy, the importance of healthy startup ecosystems only stands to increase in the future.

Key Findings

Five key findings have been identified by Compass:

  • Ecosystems have become more interconnected, and startup teams have become more international. 37% of all of the funding rounds of the top 20 ecosystems included at least one investor from an external ecosystem.
  • Exit growth is rising. Across the top 20 ecosystems, exit growth rose 81% annually from 2013 to 2014.
  • Venture capital (VC) trends in startup ecosystems appear to be on the increase as from 2013 to 2014 a VC investment growth of 95% could be seen across the top 20 ecosystems.
  • The ecosystem rankings have changed dramatically since 2012. New York, Austin, Bangalore, Singapore, Berlin and Chicago made the greatest leaps, while Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, and Seattle slid down the ranks.
  • Though gender equality is missing across all startup ecosystems, the trend for female entrepreneurship is up, and the number of female founders in the global startup ecosystem grew by 80% over the last three years.

Noteworthy Omissions

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(Image Source: Stefan Holm / Shutterstock)

Though The Telegraph calls Sweden the startup capital of Europe, submitting that Stockholm is second only to Silicon Valley as a tech hub on a per capita basis, this Nordic city tends to be overlooked in many global startup rankings. Says Skype creator Niklas Zennström, “Stockholm is becoming a world leader in technology.” Thanks to a small population of 9.8 million people, just a little more than London, Sweden’s tech scene has thrived due to its global outlook, and Zennström believes the success of Stockholm’s startups is owing to the realization that their domestic market is not big enough. With the average 1.4 years required for international company expansion from small countries and substantial government investment in Sweden’s tech infrastructure, it’s no wonder Stockholm’s tech scene is booming. Stockholm’s exclusion from this (and other) list should be a reminder that statistics aren’t able to account for everything, and the startup environment is one which lives by its own rules.

By Jennifer Klostermann

Startups To Have Reached $1 Billion Valuation In Record Time

Startups To Have Reached $1 Billion Valuation In Record Time

Startups $1 Billion Valuation

Not a lot of startups are resilient enough to vanquish the initial challenges and reach $1 billion valuation, also known as the “unicorn” status. But some of them eventually manage to get there a lot faster than others. A couple of years ago Dan Price wrote about how Venture Capitalists are using big data analytics to spot potential investment plays.

For those who are regularly involved with SMEs, venture capital, and company valuations, it is common knowledge that start-ups that exit for more than $1 billion dollars are extremely rare – often termed ‘unicorn’ companies.

Despite their rarity, it should come as no surprise that venture capitalists are very keen to identify them at the earliest possible stage. The problem is that it is much easier said than done. Traditionally, locating, predicting and investing in unicorn companies has required a lot of time and effort; a good investment could reap huge rewards, whereas a poor investment could cause bankruptcy, yet a good VC that could maximise returns consistently was hard to find…

When the term “unicorn” was first coined around 2002-2003, only a few startups could qualify for that prestigious and rather enviable title. While finding the actual number of unicorns in existence today is a rather herculean task, there is no second opinion on the fact that those belonging to the tech variety have been increasing in number at a rather exponential rate.

Infographics below have been discovered via Visualcapitalist.

Unicorn Births Per Year

unicorns-getting-faster

The Fastest Startups

unicorns-time-to-1-billion

By Brent Anderson

Edutech and the Online Education Industry

Edutech and the Online Education Industry

Edutech Trends

Over the last 20 years we have seen the classroom evolve in very tactile ways. Blackboards became whiteboards to reduce dust in the classroom, pencils became pens as a means to reduce instrument breakage and the need for costly sharpeners, and notebooks became computers because, well, everything became about computers. But one evolution that has flown undercover during the past two decades does not involve what’s in a classroom, but the idea of what a classroom actually is. Online education has grown from “that one nerdy kid who is trying to pick up extra credit before college” to a massive and international industry that has opened up the borders of learning to anyone with an internet connection. But how did online education take off? Where did it begin? It all goes back to long before the age of wires.

cloud_17-homework-clloudtweaks

People expanding the classroom is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, the first known occurrence of distance education dates back to 1728, when Caleb Phillips, a short-hand writing teacher, advertised his course and its weekly mail-in lessons in the Boston Gazette. The first traditional distance education program was established over 100 years later by Sir Isaac Pitman. Like Phillips, he to was looking to teach people short-hand writing but did so in a way that he was able to provide feedback for his students, a crucial flaw in Phillips’ program original program. Pitman’s method became so popular it led to the establishment of the Phonographic Correspondence Society, hence giving life to the term “correspondence courses”, a popular way to refer to mail-in distance education courses before the beginning of the internet age. The University Of London, referred to as “The People’s University” by famous author Charles Dickens, soon popularized these courses with the blessing of Queen Victoria. By 1906 there were over 900,000 students enrolled in distance education courses in England.

Online Education Beginings 

But enough history, when did distance learning become online education? With the advent of widespread online access thanks to the World Wide Web, online learning programs and platforms sprung from the woodwork of the education sector across the World. The first online high school became a reality in 1994 with the launching of CompuHigh. CompuHigh eventually became an accredited course provider by the NCAA. Since then online education has become a fixture in schools across the World, with many students now enrolled in hybrid programs that incorporate both traditional courses and supplemental online courses.

krishna-kumarToday, the online education sector is led by individual universities across the World and independent learning institutions like Edutech and Simplilearn. When asked why online learning has exploded over the course of the last decade, founder and CEO of Simplilearn Krishna Kumar believes it’s simple, online learning has brought people into the classroom that wouldn’t have necessarily have the chance, saying “Online learning dismantled various constraints such as the physical presence of a teacher or learner in a classroom or their availability at a particular time of the day. Be it self-learning or with the help of an instructor virtually, online learning has minimized barriers, benefiting the learner and the trainer,” adding “Availability of broadband and a surge in smartphone use have helped online learning grow at a fast pace. One of the main benefits of online learning is the ability to learn at one’s own convenience and comfort, regardless of time zones and geographies.” Another major reason is that online courses also allow students access to programs and courses that may not be available in their schools, opening up a world of opportunity for students across the World.

The online learning industry was expected to be worth $107 billion at the conclusion of 2015, with five year compound annual growth rate of 9.2%. This grew revenues from $32.1 billion in 2010, to $49.9 billion in 2015.

By Keith Holland

CloudTweaks Comics
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