Episode 56: The transformative effect of software on your small biz


All Xero Gravity episodes

Hosted by Elizabeth Ü

Manuel Jaffrin loves business. He believes perseverance and open mindedness are
essential for entrepreneurs and small business owners to succeed. As COO and
Managing Vice President of GetApp, he helps them find SaaS solutions to accomplish
precisely that, via detailed customer reviews, editorial content and expert guidance.

If you’re about to go to market, or in a growth cycle and need more advanced software,
or just curious what the GetApp buzz is about, then Xero Gravity #56 is for you.

In the episode, Manu shares great intel on things to consider when searching for the
right technology to best automate, iterate and optimize. Questions like: How can
I improve connectivity and efficiency? Why is CRM so important? What KPIs do I use?
What can competitors teach me?

It’s all of this and Barcelona, mountain biking and our five-question lightning round.

Small Business Resources:

Episode transcript

Hosts: Elizabeth Ü [EÜ]

Guest: Manu Jaffrin [MJ]

Intro: “You’re listening to Xero Gravity, a podcast for small business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world. Now to your host, Elizabeth Ü.

EÜ: Hi everyone, I'm Elizabeth Ü, and this is Xero Gravity.

Guest soundbite:

“When we started GetApp in 2009, a few months later Google announced that they were launching their Google Apps Marketplace. So some people say, ‘You really picked up the wrong time by launching GetApp now. Google is going to eat your lunch and you cannot do anything.’ It was completely the opposite.”

EÜ: Meet Manu Jaffrin. He's based in Barcelona and is the Chief Operating Officer and Managing Vice President at GetApp, a cloud-based software comparison site for businesses. Fluent in three languages, his career has taken him all over the world, including a stint here in San Francisco. Manu's expertise lies in large scale internet infrastructure, cloud computing and virtualization. In speaking with Manu, I find he really understands the challenges that small businesses face when it comes to choosing technology. Fortunately, it does not have to be hard to find the right solutions.

Guest soundbite:

“Technology is so much more affordable, so much more easy to use, that when you build a business today — no matter what sector you are in and what industry — there will always be something that you can automate, that you can improve. You can improve connectivity, you can improve your efficiency through technology.”

EÜ: So we have all of that and more, coming up on Xero Gravity right after this.

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EÜ: Manu, thanks for joining us on Xero Gravity.

MJ: Thanks for having me today.

EÜ: When you're not busy serving as the Managing Vice President for Gartner, GetApp's parent company, how do you like to spend your time?

MJ: Basically, I like to spend time, you know, disconnecting from the business. So I'm a very outdoor person. I like to spend lots of time at the beach, especially doing water sports, where I completely disconnect from the technology. This is how I spend most of my time, you know, windsurfing, kite surfing, or even mountain biking where there are no waves or wind here in Barcelona, which is rare. So I can really spend quite a bit of time doing all those after-work activities.

EÜ: I just got on my mountain bike for the first time in several years, last weekend. [Laughs] So I had to walk it a little bit, but it's so much fun.

MJ: Yeah, here in Barcelona it’s a mountain bike paradise. We have tons of hills and a nice view of all the sea from mountain biking, so it's really perfect here. You should come over.

EÜ: Oh good, I can't wait to visit you! And I'll rent a bike.

MJ: Yeah!

EÜ: And your professional journey has seen you travel and live all over the world. Can you tell us a more about what you've gotten out of those experiences?

MJ: Yeah, I mean I didn't really have a clear career path when I was younger, but I knew that I wanted to have a job that enables me to travel. I used to travel quite a lot when I was younger, with my parents. So my first job, I used to travel quite a lot, especially around emerging countries. I was helping universities and schools to deploy technologies. So I've been able to visit many countries and see how technology could contribute to changing the world and changing the life of many people. When I started GetApp, this was also something that was very important for us — having a very open minded approach and looking at global challenges with technology, and be able to address those challenges, you know, around the world. Which led us to travel to San Francisco. So I've been spending quite a bit of time in California. I've been traveling through Europe quite a bit as well, but settling down in Barcelona.

EÜ: It sounds like that first job helping universities and schools with technology really did lead into your involvement with GetApp. So was there another a-ha moment that led your decision to do that?

MJ: Yeah, actually, I spent most of my career — when I was at Sun Microsystem— working with the public sector and schools and universities. But the last few years I moved to helping an early stage startup and web-based companies to emerge, and I met lots of software companies. So SaaS Solutions that were emerging and looking for go-to market solutions. And this is how the idea of GetApp came through back in 2009. You know, how to help new software vendors reach their market, and how to help small and medium businesses find the right solutions. So yeah, that first job really helped me to carve out the idea.

EÜ: I'm really committed to helping small businesses and startups as well, and I'm curious: what qualities do you think are the most important in determining success?

MJ: That’s a good question. I mean, I can only speak for myself. I've met lots of entrepreneurs. I've seen successful companies. I've seen failure as well. Fortunately for us, we have been pretty successful. But basically, a common theme is very strong perseverance in what you do. You know, being very open-minded, being not too blocked on specific ideas, because things will change along the way: your market, your clients. So you need to be pretty flexible. It's a very intense path, so you need to be ready for a tough ride. At the same time, it's so rewarding and you meet so many different people, and hopefully, you know, you get nice clients, and happy customers.

EÜ: Sounds like mountain biking is a great metaphor for that. It's an intense path, a tough ride, but it's fun.

MJ: Exactly! You really enjoy the end, but during the journey you have some tough time, but, you know, as long as you keep focused on the end goal, usually it works out and you get the rewards.

EÜ: Speaking of tough times, how do you handle competition in business?

MJ: I think competition is really good. I mean many entrepreneurs, when they start, they're a little bit secretive about their project. They are scared that somebody else will take on their ideas, or they believe they have great ideas because nobody else has done it before.

I think this is potentially a problem, or an error, to think that not having competition when you get started is a good thing. Because competition will help you deliver a better product, because you need to stand out among your competitors, but your competitors will also help you educate the market for you.

So, as an example, when we started GetApp in 2009, a few months later Google announced that they were launching their Google Apps Marketplace. So some people say, "You really picked the wrong time by launching GetApp now. Google is going to eat your lunch and you cannot do anything." It was completely the opposite. They help us educate the market. It was not a core business for them, so it was in a way, not that difficult to do a good job compared to what they were doing in that specific market segment. And it helped us tremendously to get credibility with clients, with investors, to grow the company. And make people realize that there was a big opportunity and a big need out there, if other players are actually having the same idea at the same time.

EÜ: That's a really great insight. And I've seen so many innovators. They are introducing a new product in a new marketplace, and they have a lot of challenges educating their customers why is this new product important, or why do you want to approach something in a different way. Is there something else that you think is a misperception that small business have when they're first starting out?

MJ: I wouldn't say misperception. But so some of the advice, you need to really understand very carefully: what are the pain points you want to address. And make sure there is a market for that, make sure that there is a big enough market for that as well, that it's not something, you know, too local or too niche, where then it maybe doesn't make sense to create a company just for that.

Sometimes people tend to spend too much time to build their product without getting it out the door, and get feedback from clients to really improve the product. So a misconception could be that sometimes you wait too long to launch your product because you want it to be perfect before it hits the market, and that's an error.

When we launched GetApp in January 2010, it took us four months to develop it. We launched it in January 2010. The site was crap, but that was okay. We got tons of feedback from the first users telling us, "This is good. This is bad." And we could really then focus the next iteration of the product.

EÜ: I think that is also a really important message: that perfect is often the enemy of the good — so just get something out there and get that feedback.

Let's dig a little deeper into this episode's theme, which is of course how software adoption can transform your business. First up, can you explain the importance to small business owners of choosing the right technologies and how can we do this?

MJ: I mean, the environment has changed a lot and technology, first of all, is way more affordable for any small business that it has ever been. You know? So I remember in my old days at Sun Microsystem, you know, you had to buy a server. All the software were very expensive; complex to install. So it was not something available for any small businesses. So basically, the most advanced were using a typical office suite. This was the next evolution from pen and paper. It was an office suite, an Excel Spreadsheet — all these kind of things. But really, now the technology is so much more affordable, so much more easy to use, that when you build a business today, no matter in what sector you are and what industry, there will always be something that you can automate, that you can improve. You can improve connectivity, you can improve your efficiency through technology. So you really should always think about what are the processes or what are the solution that I need with technology, that I can deploy early on.

This was also something we had in mind. We immediately jumped into selecting a CRM software because we knew that we are going to have customers. So even if we didn’t have anyone when we launched, we knew we were going to, so we needed a tool to capture all those interactions with clients. And too many small businesses start with a spreadsheet, and then when they start to have their clients, they think, hey, “I need technology.” But sometimes it's way too late.

EÜ: When you're first starting out, how do you even know what's going to be important in order to even be able to choose a software that will meet those important requirements?

MJ: I mean, first of all, although it was my first business — I co-founded the company together with my partner — it was our first business from scratch. We both had quite a bit of experience in the IT sector, working with other larger corporations. So we were both very familiar with the use of technology in our previous jobs. For us it was a no-brainer. The challenge was, okay, I know I need a tool to manage my customer interaction, but which one is the best since I have literally almost, you know, no budget to afford the typical tools we were using in our previous blue chip job.

So this is where we had to go online. We had to listen to peer reviews, and this was also the whole point of GetApp. We were facing the same challenge that any other small businesses were having, by building the company that we were building to solve these precise issues. We are building a tool to help small business find the right tool, and at the same time, while we’re building it, we were exactly in need of it.

EÜ: The fact that both you and your partner were already in the IT sector; you said this is a no-brainer. But for those of us who aren't actually coming from that kind of a background, other than streamlining processes and being more efficient, what other benefits come from software adoption?

MJ: You gain productivity. This is a no-brainer. People understand that. But what they don't realize initially is that they will get lots of insight about their businesses, because any modern software solution today, even the cheapest one that you can find in the market for any of the different business functions that you want to automate, will provide you with some data.

It will help you to understand seasonality of your sales. For example: the duration of your sale cycle, the segmentation of your clients, everything will become much, much clearer than it has ever been before (when you were using pen and paper or spreadsheet). Certainly those tools surface, all those reports, all that data that helps you, you know, saves lots of time accelerating and transforming your business. because you really understand what your customer care about. For example: if you use a support system, you will hear directly from them what's not working. What's working? If you use an accounting system, you understand very quickly, for example, who is paying you on time, who is not paying you on time, and you can, you know, take the right actions.

So there are so many benefits and insights about your business, and the second one is reducing the amount of errors. Because previously, lots of businesses were doing lots of manual data entry, collecting the data and copy-pasting between spreadsheets and cloud solutions. You know, modern software solutions that help you to really remove all those manual errors that sometimes can lead you to making the wrong decision. If you had the wrong formula, you will make the wrong decision in running your business.

EÜ: Can you define what a KPI is, and why a business should care?

MJ: Yeah, so KPI is a key performance indicator. So basically when you run a business, you need to define what are the key metrics, what are the key data points that you want to measure regularly, to make sure that the company is going into the right direction, or at least it's going according to your plan. So KPI, a key performance indicator can be, obviously, the amount of revenue you make or the amount of new users that you get on a monthly basis.

Another very classic one is the churn rate: how many clients are you actually losing. This is very important because it’s good to go after new clients all the time. But you need to really take care of your existing clients because they are usually your best advocates to grow your company.

You should never underestimate word of mouth amongst your customers, to actually grow your business. If you are running a web business, your main KPI will be the amount of traffic you get on a monthly basis, the engagement of the user on your website, how much time do they spend, how many pages do they look at, do they bounce; meaning that they just arrived on your site and do nothing. Every business has different KPI, but there is, depending on your industry and your market, there is usually a common set of KPI that you can benchmark against to understand if your company is going in the right directions.

EÜ: I'd love for you to say more about the role of technology and software in measurement and reporting, but also combining that with the possibility for manual errors, because it seems to me that even if you're using the right technology, depending on what you're measuring, the report could still feed you out garbage. [Laughs] So I'm hoping you can speak to that a little bit.

MJ: Yeah, this is still a mistake that we see quite often, and even internally in our company: someone will present their weekly KPIs, and basically it makes no sense. And then we realize, yeah, the extraction of data was not correct so it led to the wrong conclusion. So it’s not yet 100% perfect, but it's so much better than when you manually copy paste, and when you have different silos of data, and you have to gather everything into one place without the right tool. We have seen so much progress there, but clearly, common sense and humans still need to make sure that what the computer is telling you makes a bit of sense.

EÜ: One of the things that we face all the time being in the accounting software business, is that people don't always know what it is that they need to measure. And again, when you're talking about having people bringing common sense and making the smart decisions from the get-go, what can you offer in terms of helping people choose the right things to focus on, so that they don't get stuck in the weeds or bogged down in extraneous detail?

MJ: It depends on the sector where you are. I mean, in our space, basically we are helping small businesses to identify the right software, so we spend lots of time in educating them: what they should be looking at when they look for a CRM application, when they look for an accounting application.

So there is lots of education still to come, and that's why we believe that, you know, Google is not yet good enough to really recommend you the right tool. But if you're in the software business you pretty much understand the pain point and what are the KPIs for all your clients.

It's actually your job to make sure that the next client who you onboard, you explain to them exactly where the value is with your software, helping them identify which KPI are important. You know, is it in accounting? Will it be cash flow? Time for payments? Will it be about segmenting the customer for their sales reviews?

So again, small businesses need to really be helped by the IT company to very quickly understand what is good for them, what is overkill, and what can really be applied to their business.

EÜ: And how can technology help us understand or even anticipate trends within certain industries? I know there's technology, for instance, that helps people monitor fashion industry trends.

MJ: I mean, typically, there are some solutions today that are pretty advanced to monitor, for example, brand recognition, user experience. There are some tools today that help businesses to really understand where the market is going based on what people are saying, what they are looking for. So in that space, you know, this is where I see that technology, and using the right tool can help businesses understand where the world is going in a specific market.

It's not a coincidence that all those companies like Snapchat and Instagram get so much attention, because they're a reflection of the trends right now with teenagers, you know? So this is where every B2C brand wants to be today because this is where the teenagers are spending most of their time. This is where they can listen to or monitor or get some data about their conversation, to make a decision on where to go with their product.

EÜ: There’s so much software available that addresses so many different aspects of running a small business. How can we learn what's available, and what role does GetApp play in all of this?

MJ: Yeah, this is really how GetApp got started, you know, with Christophe, my co-founder, when we looked a little bit at the market to really understand where the opportunities laid. We noticed that basically, the third most common issue that small businesses have is not using a software as a service product — basically of all the modern cloud solutions. They couldn't find where to go to choose the right solutions. So this is how we built GetApp. We're going to provide an environment, a marketplace using user reviews, using editorial content, and match all this content in such a way that we will be able to really give the best advice in a self-service way, to any small business out there when choosing the right software.

People always start their journey using or doing a Google search. They will usually search like, "Hey, what is the best accounting solution for small businesses? What is the best help desk system for small business in the US?" All those searches usually go into Google to, you know, reveal zillions of results that are not very well defined for the user's intent. So this is why GetApp was built, and this is how we tried to solve the issue is really providing a marketplace. Just mixing user-generated content and editorial content to provide the best experience possible.

EÜ: Can you give an example of what you mean by user-generated content?

MJ: So, you know, TripAdvisor, Yelp, all those sites that are more consumer-oriented have really paved the way to this concept of user-generated content, where you don't necessarily trust the provider, the hotel provider, or even the software provider about what they say about their product — so you use it as the baseline. But then you want to read and to hear and even talk with people who have been using that specific piece of software.

So this was one of the main functions that we launched on the site. And you know, most of modern marketplaces today always incorporate that feature, to give the opportunity to every user to leave a review with the pros and cons and the context of their usage of the software, so the next user will benefit from that service. On GetApp, for example, you can search for specific reviews from the same industry, the same company size, so you can validate that the product is a better fit for you than another because it has more users similar to yourself. So user-generated content is really a huge trend that's moving from B2C to B2B as well.

EÜ: So how does that work in relation to GetApp, as a software user? Can I go and vote up my favorite solution or can I add a full text review?

MJ: Exactly, you can vote up. So you can basically either rate an application only, or give a star rating based on, for example, the ease of use, the value for money, the intuitiveness, or you can create a complete profile and say the things you like.

We have a free text feature that’s very detailed. We ask you about your context: which function do you have in the company, how long have you been using that product, were you using something else before? So we really try to capture as much information about your usage from this specific piece of software — the context — so the next user will be able to really read through that and understand if your review is valid for his or her context. Because if you're a Fortune 500 company and you say, "Hey, this piece of software is really not good for me," it doesn't mean it's not good for another industry or another company type.

This is really what we do, moderate and validate the profile of the user. We capture the profile of the reviewer, so the next reviewer has confidence about who has been reviewing and what is the real profile of that person.

EÜ: So let's change tack a little bit and let's imagine I'm a small business owner looking out for the best solutions for my company. What do I need to pay attention to before I invest in a software solution?

MJ: Okay, so there are a couple of scenarios: is it your first solution, is it the first app you are looking at, or do you already have an existing solution that is core to your business? Because the answer will be slightly different. So if it’s your first app that you are looking for, the main question is, should I look for an all-in-one solution, something that will do most of what I need. It won't be perfect, but it will do most of what I need. Or should I really take the best of breed for each of the function in my business.

This leads me to the second scenario: you already have chosen a product and maybe at the time you don't pay too much attention about the integration of that product, the extension capabilities of that product, but you will be forced in a way to select your next product, looking really carefully at what you already have, you know, to make sure that you don't need to break or change the solution you previously choose for another function. A typical example is, you start with a customer relationship management solution, and then you realize that, you know, you need to do some email marketing and communicate regularly with your clients. You need to make sure that you can pass through the information from your client to your email marketing tool, and that you can monitor the engagement of your clients through your, for example, your newsletter back into your CRM system, to make sure you can segment them in a better way and understand which ones potentially are not interested in your product anymore, or are actually a good potential for upsell.

EÜ: It seems to me that there's a huge tension between setting up… well, choosing and then setting up, and learning to use a particular piece of software, and then continuing to research the latest best solutions. You mentioned the best of breed. How do you recommend we strike the perfect balance?

MJ: I mean, truly, if you run a business which is not in IT, I mean, you should be focused on running your own business. So selecting the right software should not be taking all your time, and especially implementing it. This is something that SaaS have done very well compared to the previous, you know, on-premises software product that you needed somebody to come to your company, configure it, install it, and train you. Today, most of the modern software have, you know, self-service training modules. They don't need any customization. They are very focused and designed for a specific function, so adoption is pretty fast. And this is also a very important requirement: look for product that are really built for the user, that are easy to adopt, because not only you as the business owner, but your team, all your people will need to use that tool, so make sure that it’s very user friendly.

I think if you realize that you chose a software, and you spend too much time configuring it, understanding it, you chose the wrong one. It's really a strong criteria in the selection. But truly, the more you start using product the more you will get hooked a little bit on, okay, the next one needs to do this and it needs to be integrated with that, but you know, the technology is evolving very fast, and now more and more it's getting easier and easier to plug in a new product. Even if they are from different companies, there is a consensus in the industry it’s good for everybody. It's good for the user and it's good for the software vendor to be open, because then if their product is integrated with another product, it's more sticky with the user, it provides more value, so at the end of the day, they stay longer with you. So it’s a virtual cycle, I think.

EÜ: Wow, Manu! I think the thing that's really standing out to me the most from this conversation is how things have really changed recently. And so, whereas before, a small business may have had to spend more time picking the right piece of software that might cover all of their needs, now they have the freedom to choose the best of breed for each of their business functions. And so long as they're playing nicely together, they have a lot more flexibility. So, thanks for sharing that insight.

So thanks so much for sharing that insight. We're going to finish up with our question countdown, which is five quick questions and five quick answers. Are you ready?

MJ: Yep!

EÜ: What business book or idea has made the biggest impact on your life and why?

MJ: I mean, clearly, it's more an idea. It's setting up my company GetApp. It was definitely a life-changer.

EÜ: What's the one thing you can't live without?

MJ: So I would hate to think that there is one thing, one material thing that I need to live, so it's more about, you know, people in my professional life or personal life. I mean, I couldn't live without my family. I couldn't live without clients. So it's really about the people.

EÜ: Beautiful. The most useful app on your phone right now?

MJ: Mostly for business — Google Analytics.

EÜ: In one sentence: what's the greatest lesson you've learnt throughout your small business journey?

MJ: I would say, you know, stay lean as long as you can and scale fast when you need.

EÜ: And finally, what skill do you want to enhance this year?

MJ: I mean, clearly as we are moving to a new stage of our company, I'm really interested now in learning how we can really build the brand out there. This is really about how to build the brand experience with our clients.

EÜ: Well, what a great conversation, Manu. Thanks so much for joining us on the show.

MJ: No, thanks to you!

Promo: Enjoying today's show? Then why not join the conversation! Just use the hashtag #XeroGravity.

EÜ: That was Manu Jaffrin, Chief Operating Officer and Managing Vice President at GetApp. Thanks for listening to Xero Gravity. Make sure you join us next Wednesday, because we'll be joined by Eric Brass, the founder of Tromba Tequila. Eric tells us the story of Tromba and how he beat the business odds with just five grand and a backpack. So be sure to tune in for that one, and we'll catch you then.


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