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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.
I continue to be obsessed about email – it’s by far the most significant comm channel I use. And – it’s accelerating, not decelerating, especially as it proliferates across devices as well as other comm channels.
I’ve watched as many of the companies we’ve invested in use email and CRM systems (such as Salesforce) as though they existed in separate parallel universes. I’ve listened to the endless complaints about the complete and total lack of real integration between the two. I’ve watched the workflow, even from very disciplined sales people, and shaken my head in total bafflement at the lack of integration and the perverse contortions the sales person goes through to try to make the two systems work together. And – as I’ve continued to manage the enormous flow of email I get in Gmail, I’ve been searching for more efficient (and effective) ways to deal with it, besides just ignoring it which, while efficient, wouldn’t be very effective.
To address this, we’ve invested in a new company called Yesware.
At the beginning of the year I was kicking around some ideas with my long time friend Raj Bhargava. Raj and I have done a bunch of companies together since we met in 1994. He acutely felt this problem in his most recent company StillSecure as he dealt with the garbage in / garbage out problem of his CRM system. Over a few months we bounced some ideas around until one day he mentioned to me that he’d run into two entrepreneurs in Boston – Matthew Bellows and Cashman Andrus – who were working on something similar. Over a few weeks everyone connected, Matthew, Cashman, and Raj decided to merge efforts, and I agreed, along with Rich Miner at Google Ventures, to provide a seed financing.
A few weeks later we had our first board meeting in Google’s NY office where I discovered Zico Coconut Water. Matthew and Cashman showed us a detailed product road map along with the MVP they were working on and planning to ship in 30 or so days. We spent the entire meeting talking about the product (I’m sure Matthew had other slides but I don’t remember them.) While the first MVP was interesting and an extension of the ideas they had started with, it didn’t feel right to anyone in the room.
Rich and I both suggested – in different ways – that the team delete what they had done so far. We felt they were falling into a classic startup trap as they’d spent three months raising their round and were now anxious to get a product out the door. But they hadn’t spent much time in the previous three months thinking deeply about the product, so their plan was an awkward continuation of their demoware and concept pitch.
At some point in the meeting I said something that Matthew has told me stuck with him. I said, in my most Yoda-like voice, “slow down to speed up.” The seed round was an ample amount of money for them to go for at least a year. Their vision didn’t have an expiration date. Sure – other people were likely working on similar stuff and getting to market fast is always important, but getting to market with something compelling is even more important.
The team heeded the advice, stopped trying to ramp up headcount to work on extending the demo, deleted the product roadmap, and started again. The progress over the next 60 days was awesome as they went very deep with real salespeople on the problem, simplified their product vision, and defined a very clear MVP, release plan, and path to a revenue producing product.
At the time we made our investment I asked Matthew if he wanted me to blog about it. He didn’t – he saw no reason to talk widely about it until the company had shipped something interesting for people to use. That time has come – if you are a salesperson and use Gmail in Chrome, give Yesware a try. And give us feedback.