Last night, Hummer Winblad hosted a dinner at Stanford for GSB, CS, and EE students. Stanford students are remarkably entrepreneurial and the energy around new company formation is impressive.
Over dinner, several questions were raised with respect to design considerations for new enterprise software companies. In thinking through an answer, the following thoughts came to mind.
What is the time to value quotient? How long does it take for the customer to realize value from your product? Compare and contrast clicking on a URL to self-provision versus a two-month on-premise proof of concept.
What is the customization to value quotient? How much customization is required before the customer sees relevance and value?
How much manual labor is required to realize value? How many sales engineering and professional services hours are required to both explain the merits of the solution and have it running successfully in the customer's environment? The common element of MySQL or Salesforce.com appears to be that customers self-validate through low-risk experimentation without the need for vendor sales engineers.
What is the risk of experimentation? Does the customer need to pay for a proof of concept? Does the customer need to requisition IT resource (new servers, open up a firewall port, etc) to enable your product to showcase its benefit? As with the MySQL comment above, can the customer experiment and test the value proposition without material risk or expense?
What is the time to integration? Can the product provide standalone value that obviates the need for day one systems integration, a la SFA? To the extent integration is required, how standardized are the interfaces to relevant up and downstream systems that add value to the solution?
The consumer internet offers useful lessons and direction for the enterprise space. Customers self-provision, self-validate, self-integrate, and self-configure.
The dinner offered some great ideas and insights, and I look forward to seeing the great new companies that are currently being hatched on campus.