A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.
Topic: Best practices for SaaS product workflows. Creating an effective workflow using SaaS tools for content marketing.
Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics
FULL VIDEO TRANSCRIPT
Erin: Hey, everyone. Welcome to another episode of FOUND Friday. I am Erin Robbins O’Brien and with me I have as always, Ray Grieselhuber, founder and CEO of GinzaMetrics. During the show we always encourage you to ask questions and make comments, etc. You can find us on Twitter at #FOUNDFriday or you can tweet directly to @ginzametrics. You can also look at www.GinzaMetrics.com to find our personal information and Twitter handles as well and get a hold of us there. We also post the show notes and you can follow up with questions there on our blog.
I’m going to keep things off with the conversation, Ray, that you and I were having a few days ago that I think is important from a content as well as from a SaaS product standpoint, which is around the idea of workflow.
We talk about how there are tons of various tools out there that provide a lot of analytics or a lot of data, but not necessarily a flow of steps for people to follow or a next step. You go in, you look at a chart, you get something back, and then it assumes that you’re going to go do something with that. Or you have to dig around to go from chart to chart to chart without any logical sense of what’s next.
You and I are both agreeing that it’s usually a failure of UI. That if you have to have one of those little walkthrough thingies that teaches you how to use the product, in terms of SaaS product, that’s kind of a failure. I think it’s a failure of a product to not have a logical way and hierarchy. If there’s a home screen, the home screen should make you want to logically click into certain next places and help you accomplish your position.
When talking about designing stuff – I know that you built and designed the original GinzaMetrics products – how important is that to you? Or do you think that there is a place or places like Google Analytics where you just dive in and see information and then you jump back out?
Ray: It’s important and also useful to distinguish between the user interface flow and workflow because they’re two different things and they work together in many cases. In many cases, you have products with a certain type of user flow with no actual workflow which is more of organization between people or teams where the user flow is basically much more about the way an individual user interacts with the application.
From a user flow perspective, something I’ve always personally been very big on, and I think that Google Analytics it does get a flack for being a lot of data, but if you compare that with some of its predecessors and competitors, one of the things that it really went out on and it continuous to went out on is that it’s vastly easier to use in user interface flow. It’s much better than a lot of the competing products out there. I think that they’ve done a good job of designing an interface set that flows nicely for people.
From a workflow perspective, I think that’s where you start getting into talking about: how do you make that data useful then within an organizational context? There are a couple of different ways of doing that. One is by turning it into specific insights that can then be passed around or acted on in different ways, which is more of a bite size approach to dealing with individual instances of data and turning them into things that you would try to glean knowledge from or glean insights from.
The other approach is workflow. Both approaches can certainly work together of course, but the workflow approach is basically this idea of saying, “How are specific types of teams going to collaborate with this data or these insights?” I think that both of those are really interesting. We’ll probably end up talking a lot about why certain types of things end up appearing more in products than others. I think there are some reasons behind that.
For example, insights are more of highly valued by, from a pure product perspective by capital markets, by companies with management making the decision about purchasing because they’re able to more clearly calculate things like ROI. I would say that tech press and media tends to place more value or weight on insights versus actual workflow, which is more of productivity and collaboration because those are actually really important to the users and teams that work with them. Unfortunately, they get the short shift because they have a harder time justifying what that ROI means both in terms of time saved, money saved and also things like new business goals achieved right and then, and that sort of thing.
Erin: I totally hear you on there being a difference between UI flow and workflow. In particular, UI flow should have a very logical thing. For example, in our product, there’s a main dashboard home page with things that provide people what we hope based on feedback is the basic information that you would want to see at a glance. Then each of those charts has a drill down capability that allows you to dive deeper into specifics of what that chart is showing you. That’s an example of UI flow that follows a logical pattern that you would expect. You can’t start at the granular necessarily.
For workflow, one of the things that you and I struggle with and talk about a lot too is if you have a couple of different audiences that have to use your product, can you feasibly and successfully design a workflow that either works for everyone, this one-size-fits-all situation? Or can you design individual workflows based on role and have people self-select into workflows? Or is this idea of why workflow is so difficult? Why so many companies don’t do it well? It’s because they know that they have more than one person or one type of customer using their products.
Google Analytics is used by just myriad different people. So it’d be very hard to implement a workflow into something like that because there are so many different types of users. I know that we have everything from SEO professionals to agency account managers to digital strategists to content marketers, even to community managers and people that are relying on or using the product on a daily basis, and all of those people who have a very different workflow.
Ray: It’s really interesting because obviously one workflow does not fit all sizes. We have a lot of different ways on dealing with that on the lower end of the SaaS market. We have actual specific product implementations that appeal to one type of workflow. Basecamp would be one example. Obviously, there are lots of different types of people using it, but it tends to be a single type of user in which it’s generally maybe a sole proprietor or a very small team.
Erin: Don’t you think it’s funny though that everybody that uses Basecamp or whatever, they say it’s unnecessary evil but they all talk about how much they hate it?
Ray: I think that once you get to any product with a certain amount of traction, you’re going to have a lot of that. They gained a lot of the original audience though because they probably were much simpler than other products out there. It always starts off being simpler in the beginning and then people start realizing there are either limitations on what simplicity can provide or it’s not simple enough because things have further evolved since then.
On the lower end, you have these product level segmentations of workflow. At a higher level, you have potentially a SaaS product that will take the same core platform and package it through four different ways, to deal with the different workflows in maybe industry segmented, maybe user segmented. They may be showing the exact same data but turning it into something that is specifically designed for the way a VP would use something versus a community manager.
Erin: My problem with Basecamp and things of that nature is – you and I talked about this last FOUND Friday which was feature depth versus broad scale of features. If you want to have a million different features or a few super deep ones… My problem with a lot of project management things or things that manage workflows specifically is if I have to have a separate tool to manage the workflow then that thing needs to implement all of the things that I am trying to manage. I don’t want to have to look at my workflow tool and then leave my workflow tool and go to Google Analytics, and then go to [9:20 inaudible], and then go to these other things.
Then when you get into these millions of integrations into things, I feel like if Basecamp was truly the layer that’s out on top of everything else that I had to do, it should still be seamless. It should still be something where I don’t need to take a three-week long training course or have to spend hours and hours in Basecamp 101.
Same as Microsoft Project. Laura, who’s our Marketing Director, and I was together about a decade ago. We went to this Microsoft Project training class and I remember going to this thing every day for a week. And at the end of the week, I felt not like I understood Microsoft Project but that I understood that there was a really big gap in the market for a product that didn’t suck as badly as Microsoft Project sucked. I didn’t want to use it because to manage a project using Microsoft Project actually took longer than the project itself. That seems like a major failing.
Ray: Microsoft Project is interesting in the sense that – and we talked about this before too – there are a large number of projects or products out there that have actually pretty bad user flows, user experiences, but they did get something right because they’ve achieved huge market penetration.
Project is a good example, the fact that it’s still not really a web product to my knowledge. Maybe it is now, but the last time I checked about a year ago, it wasn’t really a web product. You had things that you can do to share things over the web. The fact that that still is the case in 2013 or 2014 is ludicrous to me, but still it’s something that’s working and people tend to use it.
Erin: The Project is working because it’s from Microsoft. The same reason that there’s stuff that Apple has built that sucks but people use it because it integrates with all their Apple stuff. Whether it’s the OS or whatever, it works with what they already have.
If Microsoft would’ve built Microsoft Project as their first thing and released it, nobody would use it. If that’s what they had built their empire on, they wouldn’t have an empire. People use it because they have an existing empire and now they’re stuck with it.
Ray: I don’t know. I’ve seen many different attempts to duplicate or push out Microsoft Project and I’m not a big fan of it either. The thing that it’s always fallen down for me on has been the collaboration features. The fact that it is a desktop app and you have to e-mail people files and they have to have them installed as well to me seems insane. But I’ve managed projects using Project before and I’ve used many other project management systems.
There’s something pretty simple about just being able to entering a bunch of the steps and I think some of the individuals user flow components today developed. They worked well for me. I didn’t really mind the interface as much as I minded the collaboration features.
Erin: This makes me think, by the way, Product Note – we should totally integrate with something like that.
Ray: As long as it’s web-enabled.
Erin: Like a Basecamp or even like a Zoho. You’re saying that people are trying to duplicate or replicate this. I think that the reason that Basecamp and Zoho and a bunch of these other things are gaining traction and gaining users is because they are a supposedly web-enabled, simplified version of Microsoft Project. So they’ve taking the things that people hate the most about Project – lack of web-enablement and Kluge nonsense – and they’ve tried to better it.
We’ve talked about the devil is always in the details here, which is to truly do Project management for everybody that needs to manage projects. There are a lot of feature sets because people that need to manage project is a wide group of people: in-house people, agency people, different job types, different job functions, different size teams. So to make a product, instead of being a niche product that fits everyone, you bog it down with features.
I would almost rather, somebody at Basecamp make Basecamp for small agency or small team, Basecamp for large agency or large team, Basecampe for internal, Basecamp for startups. And I realize that that sounds like a really big undertaking, but to me it’s no bigger an undertaking to make a product that matches the real use cases or the better matches use cases than it is to continually have to risking your UI or lose customers because they’re saying, “We’re spending thousands of dollars a month on a product that everybody here hates using and doesn’t use because they hate it so much.”
People just have to beg everybody to go enter their time into BaseCamp because it was such a terrible process. If you’re agency, you have to line item by line item, and everybody does it differently depending on your agency set up. I’ve worked at agencies where you bill time by 15-minute increments, by quarter hour increments. You have to go enter in every 15 minutes worth of time on a line item by line item basis. And there’s a lot easier way to do it. To me, it’s craziness because nobody does it.
Then people lie. The agency doesn’t have the real data about how much time is being spent doing each task. That’s bad data because people think it takes four hours to do something that only took an hour to do this because somebody didn’t want to add more line items. They would ask, “What’s the quickest way?”
Ray: That particular use case has always been a pain point for me, as well. I don’t have that sort of agency experience but I’ve worked in a few cases where I either had to work with people managing their time or that sort of thing. The fact that you actually had to click something that add a new line versus just hitting enter and you’re on the next line, for example, you’re doing Excel or something was always insane to me.
Part of it is the fact that browser technology and the sorts of things that it could do on an interactive basis is only starting to catch up to where the desktop is looped [15:33 ?]. It had been successful for decades now.
Things like Google docs and other components within GinzaMetrics even, we’re starting to integrate more Excel-like UI components that, for certain use cases, facilitate that sort of large grid-like data entry with multiple dimensions and everything else. That’s helpful but those sorts of things aren’t really reliable a couple of years ago. That has probably been the limiting factor.
Erin: One of the things I’m really actually digging about Google docs right now is they’re constantly making updates and changing things out. Some of that’s good and some of it’s bad, but Google docs now has apps and things you can integrate and layer. There’s actually a workflow app that you can add in to Google docs now.
I’ve been starting to play around with some of the new things that you can add in there. Because it’s so new, there’s a long way to go, like you said, to getting this browser app based or integration based experience to be as seamless or as workable at what desktop was.
One of the things that you and I were talking about the other day, because you like Hackpad and I like Google docs and we have all these different formats, is it’s not available offline in a reliable, seamless way. If I’m jumping on a plane and I don’t want to pay $38 for WiFi for an hour – I’ve been moving for the last few months so I’ve been in and out of WiFi and having all kinds of crazy things going on – if I want to work on a spreadsheet or create a doc, I have to create it in Pages or Microsoft Word or Notes.
You saw me do this the other day. I had to copy and paste this document which had been formatted in Pages into Google docs or into Hackpad so that we could collaborate on it because I had created it when I was offline. None of the formatting would transfer. So I went over and over and over this trying to figure out a way to get to transfer of the thing, but it was actually a known issue with Pages, their new upgrade.
Same as Keynote. By the way, Keynote, Pages, all of these things, their newest iteration is horrible. I hate it. It’s the worst. None of the formatting works anymore. It’s a usability nightmare, so while I miss desktop’s reliability, I love browser-based collaboration. Why are we not there yet? Am I asking too much?
Ray: It’s tough. There are couple of apps out there that come to mind now that are desktop-oriented but they focus on collaboration. Close.io is one that I’ve been mentioning to you recently. They’re essentially a desktop app that is collaborative in nature. It’s designed for automating outbound sales calls and that sort of thing.
I think Skype is a really good example. It seems like you inevitably fall down on one side of the thing. For example, when I use Close.io – I’m not a heavy user but I played around with it – the first thing I think of is I couldn’t always just be on the web. To me, having to install an app is annoying but I’m guessing there’s something to it with the offline modules and everything else that they have.
Erin: I haven’t been messing with Close.io much but do they have an iPhone app too? Can you sync to another device or are you stuck on desktop?
Ray: It’s definitely syncable and there’s an account concept and everything else.
Erin: I don’t want to use anything desktop-based that I can’t also sync.
Ray: Tableus is an interesting example too from an analytics perspective. They’re a company that has gone public and is hugely successful, but they’re only web collaboration features really like this server concept where you can host visualizations and stuff. But the actual creation platform is still old school desktop technology. It doesn’t seem to be a limiting factor in the sense that they were done very well and they do have the web collaboration features. But I think that every user more naturally say, “Of course, if this worked in the web, I’ll prefer to have it just work directly in my browser.”
Erin: There are interesting examples of this where things really started out. Retail is a really good example of, there used to be a purely manual situation where just people would come into a store, they would buy things and you would have a cash register, and at the end of the day you have to tally up all your receipts and all your cash registers. If your part of a chain or something that has multiple locations, all of that stuff has to be tabulated daily, weekly, or monthly and then processed together to understand how things were going.
Then you start to get POS (Point of Sale) systems. There are companies that made billions of dollars off of all the retail soft credit tabulates inventory and sales, and also things that match up stores to where if your store doesn’t have it, maybe another location does.
That was probably one of the first places that this idea of offline analog type systems of having to physically do inventory for each and every location, compare, contrast, and say, “Hey, it seems like our store on Main Street sells a lot of blue widgets and it seems like our store on Fourth Street sells a lot of green widgets. Let’s shuffle around inventory to match what people need.” Now there are systems that actually are smart inventory systems.
To me, this is a similar thing that we’re starting to try to figure out with all SaaS products: how do we link everything up? How do we make everything talk to everything else?
One of the things we were talking about last week was this idea of data sharing. I think one of the things that happen when everybody first to started getting in this was people didn’t want to necessarily share. They wanted to keep their information because they thought that sharing the data meant giving up the power or giving up the money and that people would take your customers or that somebody would build something that was even better on top of you.
You and I are both falling the side of, if it’s a good idea, then we should share it. Or if it’s a good data, then we should share it. Because people can’t take something if you’re building it best. In that article that you wrote, a week or two ago, it talks a lot about that. You deserve the customers if you’ve earned the customers and if you continue to be the best product.
Ray: That really the whole point is. It may be true. Some of these people – we’re running strategy of these companies that were against sharing in general – they actually may be right from a purely tactical perspective that sharing data basically causes them to lose a whole rhythm, a strategic bottleneck they happen to own. The point is that if that’s your only competitive edge, then you’re not good enough.
If that causes you to lose market share or something else, then you’re not really serving the needs of your customer because you’re relying on natural process essentially. Because people, the market, the Internet, they want things to be shared, they want things to be open because that’s how the system as a whole continues to evolve and improve.
If you as a company or a product maker, whether it’s us or somebody else, aren’t able to survive and compete in that environment, then you’re doing something wrong and you either need to figure out how to do that or go get data of it somewhere else because that’s just the reality of market. By trying to artificially stagnant that process, you’re really doing a disservice including yourself.
Erin: There’s a really funny analogy that goes along with this that’s super pioneer-y but I love it in its simplicity. Part of what caused settlement spread was the idea that somebody would get to a town or a settlement. And when people first get there, everybody’s banding together to build up the town because you need infrastructure. Once the infrastructure is built, somebody wants to own the infrastructure and charge people for it or they have all command over the infrastructure.
We were talking about this the other day with somebody and we were talking about water being an infrastructure. Say that you’re built on a river and then somebody’s says, “I’m going to own the shipping and receiving in and out of the river. I’m going to control plumbing and water supply, wells, and everything. I’m just going to control your water.”
Then that person starts to get a little bit tyrannical, the people were saying, “By the way, this river is hundreds of miles long, so screw you. We’re going to go 10 miles upriver and start a new settlement where some jerk doesn’t own the water.”
You can’t own the water, there’s tons of it on this planet. You can own water to some degree. It’s the same thing with data. You can own the spigot that the data is coming out of, but you can’t just own data because data is a thing where whatever people are using to create it is malleable.
I love the water analogy. I thought it was really funny. It’s very pioneer-y that I feel like the Internet is in that pioneering state still. People seem to think that the Internet is forever old and we always forget that it’s actually super young.
Ray: That’s a great analogy. You can’t own or control the Internet. It’s not what the Internet is. Really, you can’t expect to own or control innovation on the Internet because that’s the driving force behind the Internet itself. I actually really like that analogy.
Erin: Talking about where Ginza falls with all the stuff with workflows and integrations and things like that, where do you see the hardest part of creating integrations? Is it in getting people to actually agree to do the integrations? Is it building UI? Is it choosing which integrations to spend time on? What’s the hardest part?
Ray: It’s less about getting people to agree to do the integrations, although there is some of that, certain potential partners that tends to be less of an issue. It’s more of, there’s a large technical cost involved in some of these integrations and getting good at prioritizing which cost to incur in order to figure out who’s going to benefit most from that and of course be willing to fund with that through being a customer of that at the end of the story.
It’s probably the biggest challenge that we find ourselves facing than we always have. Sometimes we’ve gotten it right, sometimes we have things we can learn from. That’s always the math that we’re running. What integrations or what new insights from this data can we get that will benefit the most people that will obviously help us get more customers, which means we’re doing our job right.
Erin: It’s just interesting. I know that people ask us for lots of integrations so it really is a prioritization issue. I just moved to Texas, which is my home state. One of the things that we have here is decentralized energy. What’s really cool about this whole thing – and I was actually talking to my husband about it this morning – was it’s like what you were writing about with soccer patenting. You can’t inherently patent a general thought or a potential idea. The example in the article is you can’t patent brown fizzy soda water. You can patent your version of it, your logo, your brand but the soda water itself is a thing that everybody can do.
One of the interesting things about this energy situation is – we were talking about how it forces you, forces energy companies to be the best and to really be nice to their customers because you have tons of options here. When we moved, there were like 50 energy providers in our area that we could choose from. If pay your bill on time every month for the first six months, you get $50 rebate. If you pay on time for the first year, you get $50 rebate and a free Starbucks gift card. Then after that, you get a month free.
There are all these incentives because all of these companies are competing in the open market. So no longer force to deal with PG&E or somebody who says, “We’ll get there when we get there,” or “Hey, you owe us an extra $0.35 this month because we forgot to tax you,” and then they come hounding you. Everybody’s beating down your door.
As a consumer, I love this. I know that on our end as a business provider, there’s good and bad to that. You don’t want your customers to necessarily hold you over barrel all the time or diminish all potential profitability. But at the same time, it forces people to be the best. It forces people to be nice to their customers. I would say that whenever anybody has monopoly, one of the first things that goes is customer service and that’s really sad.
Ray: Totally. Obviously, as a business person, it’s not fun to have competitors or deal with competitors but tough shit. That’s our job and it’s our job to be the best we can in that environment. I think that the consumers, the people who buy these products have the right to expect the best possible product and service that’s out there.
We see the opposite effect happening. There are companies like Comcast or AT&T, which are really good examples of environments where they do monopoly or basically near monopoly, and as a result, you can see the type of comments they get daily on Twitter and so forth because people are not happy with their experience. If those networks were opened to more competition, I think that people would really enjoy the options they are having.
Erin: A good thing for us to have next is speaking of competition and market sizes. One of the things that we agree that’s really good about having competition is that it means that we’re in a growing market. Because if you don’t have any competition, if nobody wants to be where you are, it just means there’s not enough customers or that you’re in a crappy industry. One of the things you and I talk about is the actual size of our industry, the potential size of what we do versus the actual amount of it that, not just Ginza, but our competition takes up. I think it’s a very small percent like 3, 4, 5, sub 10%.
Ray: Maybe 10%. Yeah, exactly.
Erin: So 90% of this market is untapped. One of the things that we were talking about when you wrote the article which was, if a said company really wanted to go expand, there’s 90% of the market to expand into. You don’t need to go slapping around your competitors to get back the one or two customers that you probably lost. If you lost the customers, it’s because you weren’t the right fit. Leave it alone. There are plenty of greenfield opportunities.
When we’re back next week, let’s dive into a little bit more about what the industry looks like. And maybe we’ll talk a little about some of the players in the industry. I think that we have a webinar coming up that discusses a little bit about how people make choices with those kinds of things.
We’ll wrap it up for today. Happy Friday, Ray. We’ll catch you guys next week.
Ray: All right. Take it easy.
Erin: Bye, everyone.