Some will, but since the requirements for building these two kinds of web applications are so different, they tend to move in different directions after the very first line of code is written. Consumer web apps are usually focused on people, ease of use and simplicity while Business web apps (especially Enterprise apps) are focused more on functionality, security, rules and tightly coupled integrations. It certainly seems like there is a trend to merge these two with the explosion of multi-tenant SaaS applications on the web (software as a service), but it’s challenging to pull off and tough to sell. One of the challenges is changing the perception that simple hosted software is not going to help a business that is complicated. Complexity seems to need complexity.
In 2006 I attended Salesforce.com’s Dreamforce event. In the keynote speech, Marc Benioff talked about his theory called the “Business Web” and the idea that business software like Salesforce.com should be as easy to use as consumer websites like eBay and Amazon. This theory is inspiring. Why are web apps used by consumers so easy to use while most business apps are so complicated? You can visit consumer web sites and get your personal business done quickly and easily – yet many business applications require roll out, on site technicians and training. Why can’t business software be easy and intuitive like consumer software?
While writing this – I think back to a meeting my business partner Wil and I had with a prospect in early 2009. We flew across the country to demo Schedulefly to a prospect with a few hundred locations. We were excited for sure! We were anxious to show them how our product would make their lives easier and really simplify scheduling and communication with their thousands of staff. After seeing a demo of Schedulefly, the executives in the meeting looked at us and said: “It looks like a great product, but it seems like something is missing. It seems too easy.” We were a tad caught off guard, yet smiled and asked what they thought was missing. Maybe our demo skipped over it or maybe we moved too fast. They could not answer the question. Later that evening over a beer, Wil and I high-fived at the thought of it seeming too easy. We didn’t make the sale – but we were onto something.
A year later, I can think of a few reasons why that may have happened:
1. There was no discussion between us and their IT team about software installations, or a big roll out that would require time and training. There were no “documents” to pass out explaining complicated features related to security or governance or integration. Rolling it out to hundreds of locations would surely require many people, many hours, on site visits and lots of training right?
2. There were no busy looking screens with loads of data entry fields, check boxes, drop down boxes, complex rules etc. This is likely what they are used to using. Surely, to be useful to a complicated business, the software must look complicated and need lots of explanation right? How could it be so simple and help their business?
3. They were not already using inexpensive web based software to help run their business. The systems they had implemented to date were likely expensive, difficult to install, learn, use and maintain. Schedulefly was none of these things so it was not familiar.
I’m actually glad that meeting went the way it did. We were not right for this particular business and it actually had nothing to do with our size or their size. Even though our software would have added value and made their lives easier, they didn’t feel it would because they perceived it to be too easy. They felt they needed more software. It was clear after that meeting and even more clear today that our software is not ideal for all restaurants and that’s OK. We could make it more complicated and more automated and bigger, but we passionately believe that keeping it simple and laser focused makes it more reliable and will create a bunch of happy, loyal customers in the end. We like to think of our software as software for “The Business Web”.
Are you using business software on the web yet? Let us know what you think and how it helps your business.
Wes @ Schedulefly