I had the chance to give a brief update on Smartsheet's progress at the Under the Radar conference in Mountain View last week.
It was good to see this year's new companies present as well. Interesting products. Smart people. Similar probing from the expert panelists as last year:
- 'How do you plan on selling your service?'
- 'Is what you have any different from company xyz who has been doing this for the past 2 years?'
- 'Does your idea constitute a company, product, or feature?'
Don Dodge, whose blog I quite like, also attended the conference. He poses a good question in a recent post - 'does your company sell vitamins or pain killers?'. He encourages young companies to chart the course to becoming a pain killer. Don suggests that if you are not marketing against a well defined list of real pains...that you might find yourself scratching your head wondering why customers aren't coming through the door.
Did I really need to buy my iPhone? (switching from my perfectly capable Windows Mobile device)
...or replace my car two years ago? (only had 38,000 miles on the old one)
...or buy that flatscreen? (old screen was bright as day)
...or opt for the nicer hotel on the last family trip? (could've saved $200 at the Holiday Inn)
Nope, nope, nope, nope. Alleviating pain wasn't the driver in those buying decisions. It was simply that I wanted it to be so. The gestures on the iPhone are cool. I like the fact that my new truck can tow 9000 lbs (my wife is still wondering how necessary that is). The Sony plasma has a better remote. The Embassy Suites had a better pool for the kids. The power of convenience, better design, and satisfaction influences billions of dollars in sales every day.
Software as a Service (SaaS) has expanded the scope of software purchase decisions to include those which are driven by qualitative, not just quantitative measures. It's no longer only about alleviating acute pain and proving overwhelming ROI. Case in point: Smartsheet's existing customers and the thousands of other teams who have played a role in influencing the design of our upcoming release (June '08), care as much or more about simplifying the coordination of work and quality of the user experience as they do about economically justifying a monthly subscription. You're not being asked to make the call on a $100k+ enterprise license for your division. You're making a $25/month decision that you may cancel at any time. The 'vitamin market' in software, if you will, is entering a boom.
This year's Under the Radar Best in Show - SlideRocket - is in some ways analogous to last year's winner - Smartsheet. There will be some who argue that it doesn't solve a large enough pain to warrant it being a viable subscription business. They will argue that the challenges associated with generating and sharing PowerPoint presos doesn't inflict enough pain to warrant popping an expensive SlideRocket pain killer. They're right, in the sense that I wouldn't spend $15k/year for SlideRocket.
However, as soon as Mitch and his team open the doors to their premium subscription service, I'll be walking through their door looking for my SlideRocket vitamin. It's hot, will make my presentations come alive, and enables Smartsheet marketing to feel better about their work. Something tells me that I won't be slaving away at a justification model that tells me what I already know - that a sub $50/month software service that complements and extends what I already use, is a smart buy.