If you think cloud, think small.
For years, the cloud industry has been suffering from megalomania. Big Data. Enterprise 2.0. Network as a Service. Sure, Fortune 1000 companies are flush with cash and have big tech departments who understand how to extract value from the cloud, but the experience shows that the ‘small cloud’ model can be just as profitable and provide necessary growth.
My company, Bitrix24, is a SMB 2.0 company, meaning we provide Enterprise 2.0-like services that are both in high demand from small businesses but appropriately priced for them. Despite the fact that our niche (enterprise social networking) is hypercompetitive and packed with billion dollar players: Jive Software, Yammer, TIBCO, SalesForce Chatter, Citrix and others; our Android app is more popular than either Tibbr or Jive, gets half as many downloads as Podio and is about 1/10 the size of Yammer and Chatter, quite an accomplishment for a solution that is barely one year old and entirely self-financed.
Google Apps, Analytics and Mail is another great example of SMB 2.0 thinking in action. Unlike ‘Big Data’, that starts with exabytes of data that only large companies possess, Google found a way to provide useful and actionable analysis to any web shop owner who may only get 100 visitors a day. Now, your average small business owner may claim that he or she doesn’t use any cloud services, but when Google Docs, Gmail or Hangout come up, chances are you’ll get a ‘yes’.
Of course, ‘small cloud’ is not without its challenges. First, you have to come up with something that’s genuinely useful to a small business, freelancer or a solo entrepreneur. Not only useful, but new or better than other solutions on the market, too. Second, your customer acquisition costs have to be very, very low, as you can’t pay for high-rolling sales reps, as your average contract is hundreds of dollars, not thousands or millions.
Naturally, you shouldn’t expect that small businesses will flock to your cloud, just because you offered it. But there are a few tricks that can speed up the process. First, freemium is a must. Humans are a risk-averse species, so being able to try the service before committing to a purchase helps a lot. Second, you need to put data owners in full control of their data – usually this means ability to export valuable data any time. There are just too many examples of cloud services that unexpectedly went out of business, taking all the data with them.
Finally, offering pricing flexibility helps. Consider different scenarios of product use and put the client in charge of deciding how much to pay. Offering ‘unlimited’ plan with a reasonable price helps too, as many folks still think that cloud and Saas simply a shrewd marketing ploy to keep charging forever.
Though challenging, a ‘small cloud’ approach can be incredibly rewarding. Those who ‘get it’, like FreshBooks or WaveAccounting, get millions of users within a span of few years. And those who don’t – well, that’s another story.
By Dmitry Valyanov
Dmitry Valyanov is CEO of Bitrix24 – world’s fastest growing social intranet and Productivity 2.0 platform created specifically for small businesses. Over 85,000 companies have signed up with Bitrix24 since its launch in 2012.