Enterprise Collaboration Wars Lessons for SaaS startups

It’s going to be fun to watch the enterprise collaboration wars and how each company is approaching the market! In my mind it is a microcosm of many battles being played out with startups versus incumbents. Do large enterprises go for “best of breed” providers or the “one throat to choke” model? How does the bottom-up model work versus the traditional top-down enterprise sales model? As for collaboration, here is a view of some of the players:

  1. Slack – bottom up, adding enterprise features, but not on-prem yet, many early adopter enterprises but can they bridge gap to more traditional
  2. Microsoft – Teams, product not as fleshed out but starting with bases of thousands of enterprise clients due to enterprise company licenses, does that mean adoption?
  3. Box/Dropbox – coming at it from a technically commodity base layer of file sharing and storage, trying to add stickiness on top with Paper by Dropbox and Notes from Box
  4. Google – has Gsuite for Google Cloud – do they add a collaboration layer or do they just buy someone else?
  5. Salesforce – has Quip, do they keep adding layers on top?

and many others…

Dom NiCastro from CMSWire has a great article on this: Don’t Expect Slack to Dominate Enterprise Collaboration — Yet

My personal opinion on the matter as quoted in Dom’s article:

Ed Sim, venture capital investor and founding partner at New York City-based boldstart ventures, questions the Microsoft adoption numbers. If a “huge company” with a $20 million Microsoft contract includes departments that don’t use Teams, does that count?

“Slack does have an opportunity here but it has to move quickly and launch those features companies want,” Sim said. “And at some point they may have to look at hosting on-premises if they’re ever going to get there. You have a host of companies that need their own control over data where it’s located.”

Speaking of SaaS and on-prem, I would recommend taking a look at Enterprise Ready and what it means for SaaS vendors to build for enterprises vs. just sell – shameless plug – portfolio co replicated can make this happen and let you still manage one code base!

Lot of lessons to be learned for startups:

  1. Consumerization of the enterprise is real and Slack is finally getting there
  2. Dropbox and box approached the enterprise with the same model bottom-up model and now are fully enterprise focused with lots of direct sales reps
  3. Watching if an incumbent like Microsoft can leverage its massive installed base to win or not. Only time will tell…
  4. Funding – all started with small seed rounds (slack $1.5mm even though different biz, dropbox $1.2mm, box $1.5mm A round – and all have raised greater than $500mm in private capital) – so the nail it then scale it model of enterprise SaaS certainly applies here

If history is any indicator, Salesforce did a phenomenal job of attacking enterprises from the bottom up and now going after $1mm plus deals many years later. Slack has the opportunity for sure, and it will be interesting to see if they can move from early adopter enterprise and to the mainstream. Regardless, this is the classic model many startups in SaaS employ – beautiful, easy to use, elegant and incredible time to value, start with bottom up adoption and expand from there.

As the war for adoption continues, the other battle will be adding an intelligent layer, helping companies actually get work done – reading the messages, routing folks to appropriate experts in the enterprise, creating business processes and workflows – keep an eye out for this as Slack continues its collaboration with IBM Watson and Microsoft approaches with its own tech stack.

Published by Ed Sim

founder boldstart ventures, over 20 years experience seeding and leading first rounds in enterprise startups, @boldstartvc, googlization of IT, SaaS 3.0, security, smart data; cherish family time + enjoy lacrosse + hockey