Google Apps Marketplace Ecosystem

Recently my partners and I spent some time discussing three of our recent investments – Spanning, Yesware, and Attachments – which are each applications built on top of Google Apps. Specifically, they are built for Google Apps and available in the Google Apps Marketplace or the Chrome Web Store.

Each company is going after something very different. Spanning is all about cloud backup. Attachments is all about getting control of your email attachments. And Yesware is “email for salespeople.” However, they have one very significant thing in common – they are all deeply integrated into Google Apps. In our thematic definition, they are in the Protocol theme.

The Google Apps ecosystem snuck up on us. We have all been hardcore Google Apps users for the past year and are psyched and amazed about all the easy integration points – both into the browser and the various Google Apps. In the past, we would have been more focused on “email as a datastore”, which would have resulted in multiple platforms, including of course Outlook / Exchange and IMAP. However, the pace of iteration on top of Google Apps, and the ease of integration is spectacular when compared to other platforms.

Notably, when the choice of building for Outlook vs. Google Apps comes up, many people who I know comes down strongly on the side of building for Google Apps. Their mindshare for cloud based business apps far outpaces Microsoft. A decade ago, Microsoft made a huge push with Visual Basic for Applications and the idea of “Office as a Platform” and – while plenty of interesting tech was built, something happened along the way and the notion of Office as a Platform lost a lot of visibility.

Theoretically Microsoft’s huge installed base of Outlook / Exchange users should drive real ISV integration interest, but the friction associated with working with Microsoft seems to mute the benefit. And – if you’ve ever built and tried to deploy an enterprise wide (say – 100,000, or even 1,000 seat) Outlook plug-in – well, I feel your pain. It’s possible that with Office 365, Microsoft will re-energize focus on Office as a Platform, but I haven’t seen much yet.

While Google has been building this all very quietly, I’m extremely impressed with what they’ve done. Companies like Yesware are able to release a new version of their app to all users on a weekly basis. For an early stage company that is deep in iterating on product features with its customers, this is a huge advantage. And it massively simplifies the technology complexity to chose one platform, focus all your energy on it, and then roll out other platforms after you’ve figured out the core of your product.

I expect to see versions of each of these products expand to work with Microsoft – and other – ecosystems. But for now, the companies are all doubled-down on Google Apps. And I find that very interesting.

  • With both technology and simple partner administration, Google’s App Store democratizes everything for partners and the technology itself makes marketing and iteration easier.

    I don’t understand why Microsoft and IBM haven’t changed their ways (and I have a significant legacy with both of them…).  To this day, they continue their overloaded crap:

    • Anonymous

      The “democracy” of Google Apps is freedom and choice at the expense, to varying degrees, of efficiency, reliability, and polish. I use Google Apps for Business + one of the top-rated CRM products + one of the top-rated mailing apps every day, and the experience is rarely satisfying. Google’s office suite is still terrible and not-very-compatible (my company found it unusable and has switched to Dropbox + traditional Office).

      The apps we use are good in theory, but the integration really turns Google Apps into this kind of Frankenstein where nothing is as seamless as it should be and you’ll often run into these AJAX bugs that bring everything to a grinding halt.

      Google itself has a tendency to neglect incredibly, deal-breakingly important features in their products despite the howls of longing from their users (e.g. decent tasks API in Google Apps or a way to receive Google Voice calls without a Gmail window open).

      I can see things getting better, but cloud apps in the enterprise scare me a bit because they can change or break or stop being supported without any notice at all, and the bugs are much less consistent.

      • I think Google has answered well to both Outlook and Domino Mail – for being late to the party, they have taken a measurable amount of business away from both. Your concerns are shared by lots of corporate IT folk and I think over time, Google will mature. If my memory serves me, they’ve been selling into corp for about four years now – and their first outings were easily answered by Microsoft or IBM. Now, it’s a different story. 

        I agree with your comments about shutdowns. The cloud makes SLAs increases the importance of SLAs.





      • there you go again with the big company this and that! ( im totally just kidding 🙂 )

  • Here’s a minor problem I have with “yesware” and their ilk: I don’t want you snooping in my inbox.  I don’t want to have to look at your buttons when not in use, I don’t know how you get data.  I’m perfectly compfortable with working in your interface, and I’m probably likely to let you see my mail…I just don’t like the mental clutter of another bar, overlay or whatever.

    • For Yesware (and others) to be successful, they have to provide enough value that having them immediately there is useful. For example, I use Yesware constantly throughout the day to respond to emails – I probably use it 50 times on a heavy day; 10+ times on a normal day. This is worth it to me to have it in my email UI.

      As these companies have more users, they can (and should) tune the UI aggressively. Yesware is already doing this – there are now controls for opening / closing different parts of the UI and over time they’ll automate even more based on the UX they observe.

      The super cool thing about Google Apps is they can quickly push out any of these changes and have it deployed across their entire user base. And if they goof on the UX, they can revert / iterate quickly.

      • Brad,
        There is a possibility that this is a sword that cuts both ways – apps like Yesware are essentially browser hacks that ingratiate themselves into interfaces like Gmail on the client side. If Google decides to alter any piece of their UI (not to speak of an entire overhaul as they are currently doing), there is a good chance that apps like Yesware will break. Google does have a structured interface layer through Google Gadgets but I am not sure how many apps are using this instead of resorting to Greasemonkey scripts and the like.
        On the other hand, while writing plugins for Outlook and other Office apps is far tougher, Microsoft does offer a clear contract through a variety of APIs to ensure that your app works consistently within their environment. Google is a far way away from getting anywhere close to that.

        • It’s actually not nearly the problem you describe. New UI pushes occasionally break elements of the UI (Yesware just experienced this) but was able to fix and deploy in an hour since it’s a single deploy and automatic upload to all Chrome browsers. So while there is a little fragility on the margin, the deployment model is so much easier that it’s worth putting up with.

          The contrasting point would be the large proliferation of Outlook clients. Using Gist as an example, managing all the bugs and nuances in the different versions of Outlook, Service Packs, and incremental updates is super painful.

          • Completely agree that building a plugin for Outlook is a far tougher challenge than creating something similar for Gmail via a browser extension. But my point was that once you have successfully traversed the Outlook API morasses (including all the myriad SPs and variations) and have a decently working plugin interacting with the underlying Office app at the right level, there is no further ongoing effort to maintain the integration (there is low or near-zero unpredictability).
            On the other hand with something like Yesware, this is a constant and continuous struggle as this is an integration that has essentially be done by reverse-engineering some stock snapshot-in-time version of Gmail. 
            My team has built both of the above and our experience was on these lines…

          • Having done a lot of both, I’m not sure I agree with your assertion about Outlook. One of the things that I saw was interaction between Outlook plugins that would suddenly grind the client to a halt. Another huge issue is deployment in locked down IT orgs.

      • Putting a bow on this – it seems that I’ve picked up a new favorite tool and a new client.  We’re going to make the HELL out of  this.

  • nice post!

  • James Mitchell

    Visual Basic for Applications (“VBA”) was intended by Microsoft to be a universal scripting language that other software vendors would integrate into their software packages. With a few exceptions, this did not happen.

    One, VBA, which is based on VB 6, is not quite abstract enough. It needs to be one or two levels higher on the abstraction tree.

    Second, Microsoft should have had three macro languages for every Office app:

    1. One similar to Access macros (and the Excel 5 macros), which can be used by anyone

    2. A language similar to VBA, which can be understood by halfway competent programmers

    3. A LISP-like language. Incredibly powerful but can be understood only by those who are brilliant

    Third, Microsoft never arm twisted the other software vendors to adopt VBA.

    My company has Excel workbooks with tens of thousands of lines of VBA code. We could not live without it. We obviously also use it for Microsoft Access, and a little bit with Word.

    Microsoft has made Exchange Server much too hard to program. And it is ridiculous that rules you write in Outlook are not all stored at the server level, so they can be running even when you do not have Outlook open.

  • My Google Apps, so far, have ManyMoon, Assistly as two favorites from the Marketplace.

  • I think it is extremely difficult to stop something like Office becoming bloated.  Constant addition of features to cater for a decreasing percentage of the userbase means that the core product is enormous.  One advantage google docs has is precisely this lack of history.  One person’s complaint about lack of functionality is often many other people’s relief at simplicity.  The majority of everyday tasks can be readily accomplished with a remarkably simple product.  This then leaves the field open for add-ons and this IMHO is a great division of labor.  Google delivers a fast and ultra reliable core product.  ISVs produce add-ons that users can elect to purchase if such products deliver functionality of value to them.  There is certainly risk in that many such ISVs are small companies and enterprises may not feel comfortable entrusting them with thousands of seats, but such is the B2B sales cycle. I like this model.

    • James Mitchell

      Joel Spolsky made mincemeat of your theory in 2001

      As Spolsky points out, lots of companies made lite word processers and spreadsheets. You can read all about those companies, just visit the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

      Microsoft has sold more than 400 million copies of Office. They did so because Office is an incredibly powerful suite that meets the needs of a large number of users. Google Docs lacks basic features that Word 2.0 had twenty years ago.

      This war has already been fought and Microsoft’s approach was proved correct. Google is nipping at Microsoft’s ankles a bit but few real companies of any size are going to dump Office for a fourth rate product such as Google Docs, even if some versions are free.




    • Thats an awesome point Pete. I actually believe bloat might possibly be the natural path of all successful software. On one hand its rather frightening as they gain a certain immortality.

      But then some incredibly simple well done app comes along ..and the cycle starts again ..thankfully 🙂

    • Pete,
      This is a great point but perhaps one that Google has forgotten too over time – if you take a quick look at the product blogs of Google Apps/Docs, you can see that almost all of them speak towards some new feature or the other being added to bring their apps closer to Microsoft Office. In essence, this is the “Microsoftication of Google Docs” and IMHO, a terrible road to take (a death march to victory if you will)…

  • Thanks Brad



  • Anonymous

     We are also fanatic Google Apps users at and we are getting similar feedback from vendors listed on our marketplace about ease of Google Apps integration. We have already almost 200 vendors apps features on our site that claim such integration and it is a filter that is used a lot with businesses looking for web apps. Would be great to have your portfolio companies to also join the 1500 SaaS vendors already using to generate qualified leads:

  • Derek Scruggs

    I love Google Apps for the same reasons you list. It’s already a really robust platform, but it’s still very early in the product’s evolution, akin to where Office was in the early 90s. There will be a ton of innovation over the next 10 years that take it places Office could never have dreamed.

  • Last week at Gigaom Network conference Rajen Sheth from Google said there’s 4M active companies and 40M active users of Google Apps. That’s only going to get bigger, particularly if Chrome OS and the Chromebooks are adopted by many enterprise users. (This is a slow burn right now, but once it’s more mature, for many enterprises these will make a lot of sense).

    Anyone know how many active users there are of Outlook? Xobni managed to build a good business from their sidebar, and Outlook’s going to be around for a long time.

    • Microsoft claims 700 million users on Outlook in total – while this number might be inflated, Outlook does have a stranglehold in the enterprise though with 375 million Outlook clients connecting to Exchange alone. 
      Xobni itself claims 10 million downloads of their Outlook plugin, so I presume they have a nice little business there if they have been able to convert a reasonable number of these downloads to paying users…

  • Steve Ireland

    Great summary on what happened with Microsoft.

    The thousands of Google Apps businesses we work with generally went in for “better mail”; it worked well, more businesses followed.   The change triggered a need for a completely new set of accompanying processes, business apps and services to support them.  Google responded not only by creating a catalog, but by completely rethinking it … then they supported their new partners.

    Lest we forget who came up with the concept of “installing” a web app and to what end.  The marketplace makes it easy to find the integrated apps, snap them into your environment and run with it.  You don’t need to talk to anyone, negotiate a volume discount, hire a professional service team, call the customer support group, or wait until tomorrow.

    In the IT space I’ve heard people call this sort of event “green field”, where the new option is so compelling clients are prepared to take the broom to everything old.

    Integrated web-applications fundamentally move a business forward by doing things that were previously didn’t happen.  The value is now much bigger than how fast you can get working code to a client.

    We’re a Google Apps Marketplace vendor and have no intensions in listening to what Microsoft is doing – they chose to not be our brethren.  The marketplace is evolving – consumers, small business, then perhaps a model for enterprise.  Google Apps is becoming the epicentre for that activity.

    “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” — Wayne Gretzky

    When’s the last time IT changed it’s skivvies?  It’s exciting to see innovation in IT clipping along again.
    Solve360’s Google Apps marketplace page

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  • Interesting post Brad. We have a paid Education product ‘CourseDirector LMS’ in the Google Apps Marketplace which is getting great traction. Our situation is slightly different in that we went for deep Google Apps integration, so for example on our LMS teachers create courses as Google Sites, student coursework gets submitted to Google Docs etc. It means we are of course tied to Google Apps unlike many other systems with lesser integration (often just SSO) who can build a version on other ecosystems like and Office.

    We’re betting on the continued growth of Google Apps in the Education sector (which now has over 15 million users) and has had huge adoption due to the fact that Google give Apps free to qualifying schools and Universities.

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