Polish start-ups about: Software as a service
Software as a service (SaaS) is one of the fastest growing product delivery models for start-ups. Polish start-ups are no exception. A lot of them succeed both in Poland and internationally. We asked them about SaaS in Poland, SaaS trends, their business models and international struggles and ambitions
While available studies differ on details as to how much SaaS market is worth, stating anywhere from $22 billion (Gartner) to $63 billion (Forrester), it's beyond doubt that it's currently one of the most fertile areas for tech companies. Accessing software via web browser is simple, fast and easy to sync between various devices. Such features attract both individual and business customers.
Poland strongly reflects these worldwide trends, quickly adapting popular global SaaS services and producing plenty of their own. A number of Polish SaaS start-ups already managed to establish their presence worldwide. Let's see what they think of SaaS and what their future plans are. Meet Kinetise, FreshMail, Brand24, Sotrender and Fieldworker.
SaaS trends by Polish start-ups
It's easy to guess why start-ups favor the SaaS model. It's just as much convenient for clients as it is for them – you make the effort to win the customer over once using means such as online advertising, content marketing or free trials or direct marketing, and then he or she pays every month. Piotr Pawlak, the co-founder of Kinetise, the do-it-yourself creator of mobile apps, points out that this seemingly straightforward payment model has been recently going through some changes:
“Finding a per-user sales model, where customers pay not only per month, but also per each single end-user - as in Slack for example – is a noteworthy trend. This is not a completely new thing though. Salesforce.com has been doing this for a few years now.”
Kinetise offers software that allows users without any twechnical background to create professional looking apps and instantly publish them to all major app stores (iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store).
“In Poland, there are more and more SaaS applications that achieve global success - Base, Codility and Nozbe to name a few. Their success is the result of an innovative approach to solving problems and the ability to respond effectively to the needs of customers, traits shared by FreshMail,” says FreshMail's Managing Director Paweł Sala.
FreshMail is Poland's most popular email marketing start-up, providing solutions for managing user databases and sending emails as well as email analytics.
“It’s important to recognize the dominant trend of the ability to personalize customer solutions while maintaining compatibility with other applications. We are proud to announce our integration with Zapier, which gives our customers an expanded range of available features (by combining FreshMail with other apps that help automate tasks, such as Wufoo, PayPal or Nutshell CRM),” adds Sala.
“Nowadays, the most popular solutions in SaaS are services that let you do something faster and more cheaply. All of us have less time than a few year ago, but we want to do more. Apps such as Uber let people earn some money and save them at the same time. It's faster to get an "Uber car" than a taxi as the location technology behind the app shortens the time it takes to wait for the car to arrive. Aside of trends, the right timing counts,” told web.gov.pl the founder of Fieldworker Paweł Bilejczyk.
Fieldworker's solution corresponds well with the above description. Fieldworker is a mobile app that allows businesses to manage and dispatch workers to their customers for repair services or in case of other emergencies. Once the job is done, the worker can use the app to let their company know it immediately.
Watch a promo video for the Fieldworker software. This video shows how the software works - companies are able to assign field service workers to incoming tasks and inform the workers about them immediately. The workers then use the app to send back information when the task is completed.
Another type of SaaS services worth attention are analytics tools. With the increase in the popularity of big data, innovative analytics solutions are only becoming more and more efficient and ubiquitous. Sotrender is among Poland's best. Sotrender allows you to analyze your brand's performance in social media. Sotrender informs about outreach and user engagement among others, providing you with all sorts of hints on how to improve your standings in the process. Sotrender's founder and CEO Jan Zając mentions new business models, mobile and increasing popularity among enterprises as major SaaS trends:
„Non-traditional business models, like freemium or various versions of “free”, become popular with SaaS companies. SaaS also must be mobile and they are plenty of solutions which are designed as mobile first. Enterprise clients are more and more used to SaaS services.”
Another successful Polish SaaS for analytics and marketing purposes is Brand24 - a unique tool that constantly monitors the web in search of any mentions of your brand so that you can respond to everything that is being told about you on the fly.
Brand24's Chief Revenue Officer Mick Griffin has explanation for the last observation:
“Now we are seeing that end users have the freedom to test and try tools. Then, they are going to department heads with a request to purchase. This results in a more user-oriented focus on both product and communication, rather than pitching to a decision maker with different priorities. This is something we are strongly developing inside Brand24. We want to empower the end user as much as possible during a trial or testing period, and then help them become a brand ambassador within their own organization. We do this by making it as easy as possible to use our tool. No credit cards, or even email confirmation required. The focus is allowing people to use it on their terms. We also move away from the feeling both for us and the user that it is a 'test'. When someone signs up for Brand24 either trial or paid, we treat them as a full customer of Brand24. No limitations on type of support and features.”
SaaS B2B vs SaaS B2C
It's notable that businesses, even some of the biggest, embrace SaaS services just as much as individuals. Polish start-ups are successful with both. But what are the differences in their approach?
“There are huge differences. To keep it simple: in B2C price is crucial, then instant availability. For B2B, it seems that having a service on-demand, available 24/7 and with no entry barrier is the most important,” says Sotrender's Jan Zając.
According to Freshmail's Paweł Sala, what businesses want is a highly personalized solution that feels like made especially for them – as long as it doesn't compromise the ease of use:
“Our experience tells us that B2B clients expect more personalized solutions like the creation of individualized sales strategies or dedicated system integration with FreshMail. It gives them even greater control over ongoing processes. On the other hand, B2C customers value the intuitiveness of the system and the possibility to use features without having to have an expert knowledge of the system.”
While the increasing popularity of B2B SaaS is a trend in itself, it's noteworthy that businesses tend to go for desktop versions of the software, preferring the wealth of functions over the benefits of mobile.
“I think that the major difference in B2B vs B2C SaaS services is the focus on mobile vs desktop. Now more so than ever B2C SaaS services have to put themselves on the small screen as the first screen. Spotify, Gmail, etc have very little need for you to access their website. B2B SaaS still has a desktop as the first screen. More and more focus is put on mobile in some cases though such as Todoist and Trello, as business people are often on the move and need to access certain aspects of their business life on demand.”
For years Polish start-ups have been learning how to change their mindset to one that prioritizes international expansion. For a SaaS start-up, constant intense growth in terms of the number of customers and profit is often a must to acquiring a proof of concept and a sustainable business model. A lot of the most successful Polish SaaS solutions were created 'global first' or are just preparing to target foreign markets:
“FreshMail has been active on the global market for about a year now. We are currently focusing on the anglophone (English-speaking countries) market, which we decided on after considering its size and the cost of customer acquisition. We're using Google Adwords to quickly verify those costs,” told web.gov.pl Paweł Sala.
Freshmail's Managing Director mentions the cost of marketing and advertising abroad as major issue, but points out that the fairly low cost of hiring qualified workers, including engineers, partly compensated for it:
“It’s important to note that the cost of media buys in other parts of the world is 4 to 7 times higher than in Poland and the competition often consists of large firms that have been market leaders for years. This makes it difficult to achieve a prominent position in those markets. However, Polish companies shouldn’t be afraid to take on foreign players. In fact, we want to outshine our competition with the quality of our product and level of service. Polish developers are among the best in the world and the cost of hiring them is several times lower than in more developed markets like the USA and the UK. The same is true of other positions like in Customer Service. The lower cost of hiring well qualified workers presents a great opportunity for Polish companies.”
Piotr Pawlak from Kinetise shares the same sentiment. He believes that despite the ease of communication thanks to technology advancements, it is through personal meetings that international deals can be made most effectively:
“Kinetise was designed as a global brand since the very beginning, but it will take a while and huge efforts to promote it well abroad. It is very difficult to work without being able to meet experts, investors, journalists and clients in person. Surprisingly, in today’s world full of numerous communication means, social networks, etc., face to face meetings are more important than they have ever been.”
Aside of the need for a certain general mindset, it is also vital to be able to adjust your SaaS service to the conditions of each particular market. That's what Brand24 is doing, expanding its popular solutions to new areas:
“When looking to target a market, of course research is vital. We will check market maturity, uptake of SaaS, language barriers etc. However, it is not black and white, and you can enter regions with various levels of expectation and investment. You can spend heavy in PPC (Pay Per Click ads) and SEO in one region, and in another you could hire a country manager. It comes down to setting the right expectation. The biggest struggles when expanding is knowing the line between being diverse, but sticking to the plan. You will always have distractions. A user from Japan that would like the product translated, or a user from Australia who would like more accessible support hours. It's important to serve your clients needs, without destroying your road map,” says Mick Griffin.
In the last few years, some of the most successful Polish SaaS start-ups have been proving that it's no longer an option to dismiss them as unable to scale globally. After a few years of intense start-up education, Polish SaaS entrepreneurs do think of their software as a global project from the start. It doesn't mean though that expanding internationally is an easy thing to do. Aside of hard work and creativity, it often requires substantial funding. But when the unfair misconceptions are truly no more, Polish start-ups should be able to find this last ingredient – be it in Poland or abroad.
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