There’s a lot of talk in Silicon Valley about the decline of consumer Internet companies and the rising interest in companies that sell software to enterprises.
After all, Zynga and Groupon, the darlings of the consumer wave, have tanked. Facebook's stock collapse robbed the company of some of its sparkle. And suddenly all those boring companies that have been toiling away down on the San Francisco Bay peninsula selling boring software to boring enterprises don’t seem quite so boring anymore — especially after we saw Workday, which sells cloud-based human-resources software to the enterprise, pull off a phenomenal IPO, and when we have investment bankers talking about a trillion-dollar wealth transfer that’s about to take place in the enterprise market.
Yes, suddenly the enterprise is cool again. And nobody is loving this more than Aaron Levie, the 27-year-old co-founder and CEO of Box, which sells cloud-based data storage and collaboration software to enterprises. “We’re feeling fortunate,” Levie said when we sat down for a chat at Box’s offices in Los Altos, Calif.
A Smart Bet On The Enterprise
Five years ago, Levie figured out that the enterprise ultimately would be a better market than consumer products. He focused Box entirely on the enterprise. Back in 2007, that might have seemed like a crazy thing to do. Facebook and Twitter were the hot new things. All the so-called smart money in the valley was chasing consumer stuff.
Just two years ago, in 2010, John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins was raving about Zynga, citing it's fast growth and profits. This was right after he launched the $250 million sFund to try to create even more Zyngas. A few months later he made a huge late-stage bet in Groupon -- at about twice the price that the stock carries today.
Meanwhile the guy who created the Flip camera is raising new VC money to make melted cheese sandiwches. Color Labs raised $41 million for God only knows what. We had Airbnb, then a bunch of Airbnb clones, and then another generation of clones that were the Airbnb of cars, scooters, bikes, whatever. We had Sean Parker raising $33 million to make a clone of Chatroulette.
Meanwhile, Levie and everyone else in the enterprise arena were building real businesses and not getting a lot of attention.
For the past five years, Levie watched the consumer companies boom and bust while Box took a slower, more difficult path, creating a sales force and learning how to sell to big companies.
Now, of course, everyone is hot for enterprise, and look who's sitting pretty.
Box's War Chest
Box has raised $285 million in venture funding, including a huge $125 million round in July that valued the company at $1.2 billion. Levie won’t disclose revenue figures, but allows that Box has 650 employees, roughly double the level from a year ago. He says revenue growth is tracking with head-count growth, meaning sales are up roughly 100% year over year.
Box’s software is used by 14 million people inside 140,000 companies, including 92% of the Fortune 500.
And this is just the beginning. Pretty soon that trillion-dollar transfer in the valley will begin in earnest, draining out of the legacy vendors and into Box and other cloud-based vendors.
“The dam has broken,” says Levie, who often speaks so quickly that it’s impossible to keep up with him. “We’re seeing all this innovation. There’s more opportunity than ever before. We’re going to see, over the next decade, a huge changing of IT architecture.”
A New Cloud Architecture Emerges
Every day, Levie says, he’s on the phone with CIOs who are building what he calls “the new cloud architecture.” Essentially this means replacing a list of on-premises software with cloud-based alternatives that do more and cost less.
A new lineup is emerging that includes software from NetSuite for ERP, Salesforce.com for CRM, Zendesk for help-desk management, Workday for human resources, Domo and GoodData for business intelligence, Okta and Ping Identity for identity management, AirWatch and MobileIron for mobile device management — and Box for cloud-based storage and sharing.
The Next Market Will Be Bigger
Levie agrees with the premise that massive amounts of revenue and market capitalization will swing over to upstarts. But he says this shift is about more than that.
As he sees it, this is not just a matter of moving the same dollars from one bucket into another. Levie believes that the proliferation of low-cost tablets is creating a much bigger addressable market.
The fact that cloud-based programs cost far less than legacy programs means that even tiny companies can afford them, not just the medium- and large-scale enterprises that can pay for top-dollar products made by companies like Oracle and SAP.
“The one thing that people don’t seem to realize yet is that there’s a good chance that the market will be far larger at the end of all this,” Levie says. “It’s going to be massive.”
Forget Those Fickle Consumers
Enterprise customers do tend to choose products with a great deal of caution, but they stick with them for a long time. Consumers go crazy over a new app or game and quickly move on.
The pain is already being felt in the consumer sector. The Wall Street Journal reports that funding for consumer Web companies dropped 42% in the first nine months of this year. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, whose firm, Union Square Ventures, mostly invests in consumer Internet companies, says things have changed.
“We are still in the early innings of this more challenging environment,” Wilson said.
Customers today are used to providing personal information to companies in a variety of media, including online profiles and usage data. In return, they expect firms to have the right information on hand in order to respond to and anticipate their needs.
Can Your CRM Evolve as Fast as Your Customers? (Part 4a)
Customers today are used to providing personal information to companies in a variety of media, including online profiles and usage data. In return, they expect firms to have the right information on hand in order to respond to and anticipate their needs. For CRM systems to deliver, applications must have access to data that has been integrated from a wide variety of sources, whether these are housed on-premise or in the cloud. Many companies recognize this imperative, but they are struggling to address it.
One major challenge is that the vast majority of data is unstructured; found in call recordings, chat sessions and social media comments. Using these sources requires applications that can understand the information and integrate it with other data sources via business intelligence (BI) applications.
Unfortunately, much of this data is often loaded into separate systems that make obtaining a complete, efficient, real-time 360-degree view of customers difficult. For BI tasks to be performed efficiently and effectively requires the relevant data to be received, formatted, sorted and stocked in data warehouses. While integration is critical to fast response times, customer demands to be recognized also implies an increased demand for personalization and for better anticipation of the customer’s current and future needs. Getting to this level of service and decision making means companies must have data that is both highly accurate and actionable. Often, it is not. This is the role for analytics. And that means CRM systems that are compatible with BI Programs.
Continued in Part 4b
Mobile technology has accustomed individuals to convenience, scalable pricing, and instant access to communication and information. As such, mobile customers have less patience for waiting on hold, callbacks, or unnecessary transfers. They buy minute-based plans with wireless versus one-price unlimited landline calling.
Can Your CRM Evolve as Fast as Your Customers? (Part 3b)
Mobile technology has accustomed individuals to convenience, scalable pricing, and instant access to communication and information. As such, mobile customers have less patience for waiting on hold, callbacks, or unnecessary transfers. They buy minute-based plans with wireless versus one-price unlimited landline calling. They perceive their time as valuable and will not wait long on hold or for a sales team member to get back to them. They will become frustrated and go to a competitor who can supply them with information quicker. To deliver the fast, personalized service clients are demanding, call centers and customer service agents are now looking to their CRM systems to provide real-time access to a full spectrum of customer information.
For sales and service agents, delivering fast responses requires a streamlined, easy-to-use view into the customer data. CRM solutions with dynamic user interfaces can enable employees to find the information they need with minimal clicking-and-dragging. These user interfaces enable data to be personalized for each user, increasing productivity by showing only the information that is relevant for them. For salespeople on the road, access to this information must now also be mobile-friendly for use in wireless devices.
Continued in Part 4
CRM can help in the understanding of who the customers are and what they want. But traditional CRM often falls short in enabling the proactive decision-making skills that business leaders need to address the demands of their clients. Business managers need to be aware of, budget for, anticipate, and respond quickly and effectively to their customers’ needs.
Can Your CRM Evolve as Fast as Your Customers? (Part 3a)
That requires them to have more real-time data and analysis tools to help them decide the best contact methods to employ to improve service levels and satisfy customers. Yet many midsize businesses don’t realize that their three or four year old CRM system is probably holding them back. They still rely on traditional, nonintegrated customer management, sales tracking or marketing systems—applications that are insufficient to meet the demands of the changing customer. By taking into account the impact marketplace shifts will have on how businesses leverage their CRM systems, business leaders can better strategize for the future.
Certainly one of the mega trends rocking the world of CRM is the pervasive impact of mobile communications. The rise of practical, convenient and affordable mobile technology is changing how customers communicate with each other and with the businesses that serve them. Customers are employing wireless devices for voice and Internet access as supplements to, and increasingly as replacements for, landline telephones. More than one in four American homes are now wireless-only.
This pattern is becoming especially prevalent in the upcoming generation. Statistics Canada reported that half of all households occupied by 18 to 34 years old had cut or never had traditional phones in 2010: up from 34 percent in 2008. . For businesses, changes in telephone demography have made it more difficult to know whether a given customer is at home or at work, on a mobile phone or on a landline.
Continued in Part 3b