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Blair Reeves

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The three types of enterprise software

“Enterprise software” can obviously encompass a ton of different products and services, but I find it useful to break down our market into three broad categories that help inform product managers’ vision for their product:

  • Back-office products
  • Iterative products
  • Transformative solutions

One thing about enterprise software that makes it unique from consumer-facing is that its path to market and selling strategy is usually a fundamental part of the product itself. Businesses, especially in the “enterprise tier” (however you care to classify that), do not often buy, adopt or test out lots of software products on a whim; there are just too many legitimate concerns around risk, security, control, etc. Each of these categories has a meaningfully different path to market that product managers have to design for and build a product strategy around, even (or especially) if the ultimate goal is to go up-market (which – spoiler alert! – it usually is).

I’m going to talk a little about each category, how they’re interrelated, and how enterprise products can (sometimes) move between them.

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When lies aren’t lies

Note: this was originally a digression in my last post, Relevancy and Truth, but I decided it worked better as a standalone piece.


When someone asks your opinion about a topic, do you always answer with completely unvarnished honesty? Do you always give the answer you know or believe to be true?

The answer is no, of course you don’t. We all filter our self-expression through the lenses of what we believe others expect from us and how we think our responses will be received. This distorting effect is widely understood, from research psychology and behavioral economics to opinion polling. In short, people routinely voice opinions they know to be either false, or at least uncertain.

This is not exactly “lying.” It’s not deception; if anything, it’s more like self-deception. It gets to the core of how humans think and present themselves, and I think it’s more important than ever in understanding the mass psychology of the social web.

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Relevancy and Truth

One of the more non-consensus views I hold is that the most venerable institutions of journalism – eg. The New York Times and Washington Post – are more likely to exist in something approximating their existing form in 50 or 100 years than are the big eyeball platforms like Google and Facebook. The recent controversy over “fake news” on both platforms demonstrates why.

The big criticism of these platforms today boils down to their respective services being increasingly gamed to deliver inaccurate, misleading or offensive content. For Google’s part, fraudulent information will occasionally appear at the top of search results for certain queries, serving up content on how Donald Trump really won the popular vote, or Holocaust denial, or crystals that cure cancer or something. At Facebook, fake news spreads like kudzu among and between communities primed to click on the agitprop of the day. In short, the two companies that organized the world’s information and social graph are grappling with how to handle a fundamental dilemma between relevancy and truth, which strikes to the heart of the advertising model that underlies their respective empires.

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There are no GAFAs in enterprise

Many of us who run in software/tech circles tend to form exaggerated notions of just how dominant particularly popular vendors are. I ran across some enterprise software market share numbers recently that I think are pretty interesting to illustrate how our perceptions match up to reality.

Salesforce is currently the leading CRM vendor in the world. Yet that market-leading share is only about 18% of their total market:

Of course, this is a particularly Salesforce-friendly report from IDC. Personally, I think it’s exaggerated – I’m not sure I believe Salesforce has literally double the market presence of Oracle or SAP. Gartner put out a report just last year whose extrapolations wouldn’t match this. Different firms, different methodologies, etc etc.

Don’t misunderstand me – Salesforce is an absolutely tremendous company, and their share is growing fast. Yet for all you hear about Salesforce CRM, would you have guessed that, at most, maybe 1 in 6 enterprise CRM customers use them?

Next, consider Slack. Lots of people, especially in tech and media (two industries whose lanes tend to cross a lot), think Slack is utterly ubiquitous. But it is not. Anecdotally, I know swaths of people outside of tech/media who’ve never heard of it. But more interestingly, IDC also says that in the workplace collaboration software market, Slack only commands about 5% of the market. Compare that with 37% for Microsoft, with their Skype for Business and now Teams products.

Again – Slack is a truly tremendous product, and company. (I’ve personally built a game bot on their platform, which was surprisingly cool!) But I suspect that a lot of tech people hold vastly exaggerated ideas about either how widespread they are in their market, or how easy it will be to displace well-entrenched incumbents in a product space that many customers don’t perceive as critical. (I have a different blog post brewing about that last part.)

Personally, I come from the Marketing Clouds world. Market share numbers there are highly unreliable, closely questioned and never really a good apples-to-apples comparison. Nevertheless, the big three – Adobe, Salesforce and Oracle – constitute the biggest part of the market. IBM still owns a surprisingly large chunk of it, too (again, depending on how you slice the numbers).

As I’ve said before, there are no GAFAs in enterprise. There are no monopolists – just some major players who own big slices of the market, and then dozens or hundreds of others behind. Nor do I see this changing anytime soon. This is great news for innovators. Selling in enterprise is difficult, but for the most part, we do not encounter the same kinds of insurmountable obstacles to adoption that most consumer web products do today. That’s cool.

More on this to come.

Smart and Dumb

About ten years ago, I realized something significant: there really are no innately “smart” and “dumb” people. Or, at least, there are so few of them as to make those labels, at a minimum, inadequate. Realizing this had far-reaching implications for how I understood others that I continue to process.

There are at least two major problems with the concept of “smart/dumb” humans. The first is the idea of intelligence itself. Namely, no one can tell you what it means. Is being smart being able to sound glib, deploying just the right bon mots and being charming? Maybe… but a lot of people mask profound ignorance by being glib. Surely a brilliant engineer or poet or quant or essayist could qualify as “smart” too. There’s nothing natural about any of these skills; they’re simply activities that humans have found a way to direct their mental energies into in a way others find interesting and recognizable.

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Welcome to the world, Penny

Our daughter, Penelope Lark Reeves, was born a week ago today. Both she and Momma are doing very well.

That is not a yawn, by the way. It is a roar. World, you have been warned.

How I use Twitter

It would be fair to say that Twitter is the most valuable online service I use by a wide measure; certainly the best social media platform. I get a lot of my news from Twitter, meet a lot of interesting people, discover ideas and (yes) products that I wasn’t aware of before, and much more. I have a Facebook account that I rarely look at these days and LinkedIn for networking, but Twitter is really the locus of my online identity.

Even now, over a decade after its founding, Twitter struggles with adding and retaining users because so many people just don’t get it. I think a lot of this comes down to the format of engagement. Many, many people use Facebook as a portal for funny videos and other forms of passive content consumption. Indeed, a primary use case of Facebook is as an endless scroll of lols, highly optimized for mobile. That does not really describe Twitter, which is more of an onslaught of unpredictable human-ness. What I tell friends of mine experimenting with the platform is that you have to invest some time into making it work for you – and this is likely what keeps Twitter a relatively niche platform.

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Generational perspective

The impending arrival of our daughter has me pondering a lot of big things that anxious fathers-to-be have for ages on end. Chief among them is that I – we – have no idea what the future will hold. This has gotten me thinking about how my parents probably felt the same when they sat where we do today, and likewise, their parents before them.

I was born in 1981 when my parents, both Boomers, were in their mid-30s. I did a little digging to get a glimpse of what the world, as viewed through a consumerist lens, looked like when each of our generations of the Reeves clan came into the world.

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Build versus buy

One very common question that you run into when building enterprise software is customers who ask: why should we buy this stuff at all? Can’t we just build it ourselves?

The build-versus-buy debate is remarkably common. Companies of all sizes wrestle with it, albeit in different ways, in almost every industry when they start adopting new software tools into their operations. Obviously, there is no blanket rule that can apply to everyone’s situation. But after being directly involved in a bunch of these discussions, across a couple of different software markets, I thought I would write down some things that I wish decisionmakers looking at this issue understood better.

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Postal Banking

In most of the developed world today, as well as a fair swath of middle-income and developing countries, you can walk into any government post office and after posting a letter or buying stamps, also deposit money into a savings account that is safe, secure, fully insured, and most of all, free.

“Postal banking” is a phenomenon that most Americans today don’t recognize, but in much of the world, it’s almost the definition of mundane. In the UK, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Korea, India, the Netherlands, China and France, just to name a few, the national postal system also offers basic financial services. Depending on the country, these range from no-frills savings accounts to checking and bill-paying services, to more sophisticated stuff like small loans, money transfer and forms of insurance.

Postal banking is an old idea whose utility for America has returned. We should bring it back, updated for the 21st century. It represents a big solution to two major problems Americans face today: first, and most importantly, low-income communities are seriously “underbanked.” The FDIC finds that over a quarter of Americans either have no access to the banking system or must obtain financial products outside of it (ex. payday loans). Second, the U.S. Postal Service has been teetering on the edge of crisis for years, as legal strictures imposed by Congress starve it of funds and the overall volume of mail decreases. Postal banking would go a long way to restoring its stability.

With large swaths of low-income Americans feeling shut out of the economic growth story happening in much of the country, reviving postal banking should be one part of any progressive agenda to build greater economic resilience and strengthen the social safety net.

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