Business of Software Conference, Day 2

I didn't make it to to a couple o the sessions today, but the the ones I did go to were more enlightening, while not as inspirational as yesterday. Just different styles of presentation, really. Both days have been excellent and I hope to hear most of all the speakers again sometime.

Rick Chapman, the publisher of Softletter and author of In Search of Stupidity, spoke about the resurgence of SaaS (formerly known as ASP).

He stressed when building an application to deliver very SaaS, you should at the very start build in a way to gather requirements from the customer. Building a good feedback loop for requesting features, reporting bugs, so that the customer gets a responsive experience to their needs, creates customer loyalty unlike anything else.

Some other highlights from the talk:

  • Reduces IT staff/operations cost for a customer
  • Sales cycle is extremely quick when compared to desktop software
  • Deployment is ridiculously easy
  • Gain higher penetration - companies/organization that would otherwise not use a software solution will consider apps that can be used in a SaaS fashion as they need not have the overhead of software installed on site
  • Increasingly, SaaS is gaining ground in enterprise software markets
  • 94% of SaaS sales are to businesses (not sure what time period this stat was for)
  • SaaS model only works if you are committed to on going customer contact

Next up, was Jennifer Aaker. She was probably the most informative session of the past two days. Aaker is a professor at Stanford and Berkeley. Her session was on understanding how to create stronger company-consumer relationships. It seemed to be based largely on some of her papers, When Good Brands Do Bad and Dimensions of Brand Personality, following her main areas of interest lie in how marketing intersects with emotion, culture, and brand relationships.

It was a fresh perspective on seeing how one could get to a point of assigning emotional attributes to a brand image. The successful companies tend to, "understand and massage the emotional experiences of their customers", according to Aaker.

She broke the type of relationship you are engaging in with your customer into two types, marriage and friendship. I didn't get a change to talk with her but she seemed to imply that they were mutually exclusive which I didn't quite get. After all, my best friend is also the person I am married to. The way I see it, it would make for an unhealthy marriage if it were otherwise.

That being said, I found it extremely useful to engage my brain to think about customers as people to build up relationships with and to nurture their emotional experiences. That is something that I think blogs, discussion forums, and good email tools, are all good ways to manage that, giving customers more access for feedback loops.

Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void followed Aaker. What a great story teller. There wasn't much data backing up some of his claims like his ideas about "Social Objects" creating market traction. However, let him serenade you with stories of how he used blogs to transform the business of a Saville Row tailor and a remote South African winery, and you'll believe just about anything he has to say on the topic of building a business on the web. Great drawings as well!

Last, but certainly not least, was Jeff Pfeffer, another professor from Stanford:

  • We tend to over measure outcomes and don't measure process.
  • We fail to pair cost with benefits
  • Citing the famous Princeton paper on 7 +/- 2, we should keep the number of measures we look at to less than 7, preferably 3 or 4.
  • "If two people agree all the time, one of them is redundant.", attributed to Bob Sutton by Pfeffer
  • Success != Strategy/Planning; Success == Execution
  • Use vivid language to promote action.
  • Enlightened trial and error outperforms planning flawless action

That last point sounds an awful lot like the "release early, release often" mantra of agile software engineering practices.

He finished his seemingly random, but information packed, session with the following four qualities of a successful leader:

  1. Servant Leadership
  2. Admin Mistakes
  3. Build Culture of Evidence Based Decision Making
  4. Reduce Power Differentials

As I was typing this up sitting in my 12th floor hotel room in San Jose, CA, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck. I am sure it was nothing to the native fault liners but for this Southerner, it was more than a bit unsettling. Despite the excellent conference, I'll be glad to get back on the plane tomorrow to get back home for more than a number of reasons.