Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Salesforce Startup Lesson #1: How are products built by Oracle, SAP or Salesforce different?

One of the questions often asked by venture investors and entrepreneurs alike is - how does product strategy work at a company like Salesforce? How is it different from Oracle? How does Salesforce thinking about products fundamentally different than how SAP or Oracle approach it?

To me it comes down to the way the three companies think and their DNA. This goes beyond cloud and SaaS. 

Oracle thinks Database first. SAP thinks business process first. And Salesforce thinks UX first. All three companies have to do all three pieces but where you start and what you focus on has a huge impact on the product you build. And how you sell it and to whom.

Let's say you are building an app that would be a health exchange something similar to HealthCare.gov.

At Salesforce, you would ask the question: What does it look like? What are the key interactions? Does the app look diffeent on the iPhone? On iPad?
Thinking like this:
leads to apps that look like:

At SAP, you would ask the question: What are the key processes to be automated? What are the personas and their key task? 
Thinking like this:
leads to apps that look like:

At Oracle, you would ask the question: What are the key tables? What does the schema and relationships look like?

Thinking like this:

leads to apps that look like:

While this may seem like a suggestion that you always think UX first, I don't suggest that at all.  I am suggesting that you become good at delivering what you focus on. This means pick carefully and don't focus on the part that's not important to customers - in some cases, this means process is much more important than the screens.

What method is best?
The above thinking preferred modalities differentiate these companies. In my view, this also provides a clue to what kind of products they will likely succeed or fail at. If you are a small startup, you may not be served well to go up against Oracle with an app based on your schema design. You can actually run circles around them by building a killer user experience. 

Are you self-aware as a startup?
Just like these multi-billion dollar companies, your startup likely has its unique modality of thinking. It is important for you to recognize this bias and take advantage of it. It may also be a disadvantage to you - for example, if you are data up kind of company building a social networking app, you may have the perfect schema which would prove advantageous later in your company's life but initially may deter you from focusing on the user signup and trial.

Learnings you can apply to your startup:
  • Know your modality: When someone in your company says let's build X, do you write a document (Amazon), do you write a process diagram, or do you build mock ups? Assess your bias and become a master at it.
  • Try other modalities: Don't become a prisoner to your DNA. A lot of products fail because you are solving the problems that don't exist. Try other lens!
  • Hire for modality diversity: If you come from a UX centric company, get a CTO that's database centric. Hire a marketing guru that's business process specialist. Mix it up. 
What do you think?

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