How to overcome the challenges of switching to usage-based pricing

The usage-based pricing model almost feels like a cheat code — it enables SaaS companies to more efficiently acquire new customers, grow with those customers as they’re successful and keep those customers on the platform.

Compared to their peers, companies with usage-based pricing trade at a 50% revenue multiple premium and see 10pp better net dollar retention rates.

But the shift from pure subscription to usage-based pricing is nearly as complex as going from on-premise to SaaS. It opens up the addressable market by lowering the purchase barrier, which then necessitates finding new ways to scalably acquire users. It more closely aligns payment with a customer’s consumption, thereby impacting cash flow and revenue recognition. And it creates less revenue predictability, which can generate pushback from procurement and legal.

SaaS companies exploring a usage-based model need to plan for both go-to-market and operational challenges spanning from pricing to sales compensation to billing.

Selecting the right usage metric

There are numerous potential usage metrics that SaaS companies could use in their pricing. Datadog charges based on hosts, HubSpot uses marketing contacts, Zapier prices by tasks and Snowflake has compute resources. Picking the wrong usage metric could have disastrous consequences for long-term growth.

The best usage metric meets five key criteria: value-based, flexible, scalable, predictable and feasible.

  • Value-based: It should align with how customers derive value from the product and how they see success. For example, Stripe charges a 2.9% transaction fee and so directly grows as customers grow their business.
  • Flexible: Customers should be able to choose and pay for their exact scope of usage, starting small and scaling as they mature.
  • Scalable: It should grow steadily over time for the average customer once they’ve adopted the product. There’s a reason why cell phone providers now charge based on GB of data rather than talk minutes — data volumes keep going up.
  • Predictable: Customers should be able to reasonably predict their usage so they have budget predictability. (Some assistance may be required during the sales process.)
  • Feasible: It should be possible to monitor, administer and police usage. The metric needs to track with the cost of delivering the service so that customers don’t become unprofitable.

Navigating enterprise legal and procurement teams

Enterprise customers often crave price predictability for annual budgetary purposes. It can be tough for traditional legal and procurement teams to wrap their heads around a purchase with an unspecified cost. SaaS vendors must get creative with different usage-based pricing structures to give enterprise customers greater peace of mind.

tips for navigating legal and procurement teams

Image Credits: Kyle Poyar

Customer engagement software Twilio offers deeper discounts when a customer commits to usage for an extended period. AWS takes this a step further by allowing a customer to commit in advance, but still pay for their usage as it happens. Data analytics company Snowflake lets customers roll over their unused usage credits as long as their next year’s commitment is at least as large as the prior one.

Handling overages

Nobody wants to see a shock expense when they’ve unknowingly exceeded their usage limit. It’s important to design thoughtful overage policies that give customers the feeling of control over how much they’re spending.

With a reported deal in the wings for Joby Aviation, electric aircraft soars to $10B business

One year after nabbing $590 million from investors led by Toyota, and a few months after picking up Uber’s flying taxi businessJoby Aviation is reportedly in talks to go public in a SPAC deal that would value the electric plane manufacturer at nearly $5.7 billion.

News of a potential deal comes on the heels of another big SPAC transaction in electric planes, for Archer Aviation. If the Financial Times‘ reporting is accurate, then that would mean that the two will soon be publicly traded at a total value approaching $10 billion.

It’s a heady time for startups making vehicles powered by anything other than hydrocarbons, and the SPAC wave has hit it hard.

Electric car companies Arrival, Canoo, ChargePoint, Fisker, Lordstown Motors, Proterra and The Lion Electric Company are some of the companies that have merged with SPACs — or announced plans to — in the past year.

Now it appears that any company that has anything to do with the electrification of any mode of transportation is going to get waved onto the runway for a public listing through a special purpose acquisition company vehicle — a wildly popular route at the moment for companies that might find traditional IPO listings more challenging to carry out but would rather not stay in startup mode when it comes to fundraising.

The investment group reportedly taking Joby to the moon! out to public markets is led by the billionaire tech entrepreneurs and investors Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, and Mark Pincus, who launched the casual gaming company, Zynga.

Together the two men had formed Reinvent Technology Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, earlier in 2020. The shell company went public and raised $690 million to make a deal.

Any transaction for Joby would be a win for the company’s backers including Toyota, Baillie Gifford, Intel Capital, JetBlue Technology Ventures (the investment arm of the US-based airline), and Uber, which invested $125 million into Joby.

Joby has a prototype that has already taken 600 flights, but has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. And the success of any transaction between the company and Hoffman and Pincus’ SPAC group is far from a sure thing, as the FT noted.

The deal would require an additional capital infusion into the SPAC that the two men established, and without that extra cash, all bets are off. Indeed, that is probably one reason why anyone is reading about this now.

Alternatively powered transportation vehicles of all stripes and covering all modes of travel are the rage right now among the public investment crowd. Part of that is due to rising pressure among institutional investors to find companies with an environmental, sustainability, and good governance thesis that they can invest in, and part of that is due to tailwinds coming from government regulations pushing for the decarbonization of fleets in a bid to curb global warming.

The environmental impact is one chief reason that United chief executive Scott Kirby cited when speaking about his company’s $1 billion purchase order from the electric plane company that actually announced it would be pursuing a public offering through a SPAC earlier this week.

“By working with Archer, United is showing the aviation industry that now is the time to embrace cleaner, more efficient modes of transportation,” Kirby said. “With the right technology, we can curb the impact aircraft have on the planet, but we have to identify the next generation of companies who will make this a reality early and find ways to help them get off the ground.”

It’s also an investment in a possible new business line that could eventually shuttle United passengers to and from an airport, as TechCrunch reported earlier. United projected that a trip in one of Archer’s eVTOL aircraft could reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50% per passenger traveling between Hollywood and Los Angeles International Airport.

The agreement to go public and the order from United Airlines comes less than a year after Archer Aviation came out of stealth. Archer was co-founded in 2018 by Adam Goldstein and Brett Adcock, who sold their software-as-a-service company Vettery to The Adecco Group for more than $100 million. The company’s primary backer was Marc Lore, who sold his company Jet.com to Walmart in 2016 for $3.3 billion. Lore was Walmart’s e-commerce chief until January.

For any SPAC investors or venture capitalists worried that they’re now left out of the EV plane investment bonanza, take heart! There’s still the German tech developer, Lilium. And if an investor is interested in supersonic travel, there’s always Boom.

Revenue-based financing: The next step for private equity and early-stage investment

Revenue-based investing (RBI), also known as revenue-based financing, or revenue-share investing,1 is a natural next step for the private equity and early-stage venture investment industry. However, due to RBI being a relatively new model, publicly available data is limited.

To address this foundational gap in market information, we have developed a proprietary data set of 32 RBI investment firms, 57 distinct funds and 134 companies that have secured revenue-based investing.

Bootstrapp developed this extensive analysis on revenue-based investing for the purpose of accelerating the shift toward greater transparency and standardization within the industry.

Upon thoroughly analyzing the data, we’ve been able to identify the total number of investment firms and amount of capital that comprise the RBI industry, the specific verticals and business models that are most actively leveraging RBI, and the typical profile of companies that access this form of capital.

These findings are summarized below; a full industry-spanning report that defines the overall revenue-based investing market as it stands today is available to download here.

As context, the financial structures used by VCs haven’t evolved much since they first emerged in 1957. Today, the model is almost precisely the same, with only incremental changes such as more efficient capital markets and industry standards for structuring deals, pricing companies and more.

More recently, we have seen numerous new investment models and financing instruments, including shared earnings agreements and point-of-sale capital. One of the most prominent and popular new models for investors is revenue-based investing (RBI).

However, because the model is new, there is a lack of publicly available data, industry standards have not yet been fully established, and similarly to the equity investment market, there is little transparency into the cost of capital that investees truly pay in exchange for taking on a revenue-based investment.

Thankfully, there have been some notable efforts to drive transparency in the RBI market. For example, Bigfoot Capital open-sourced its RBI model, outlining it in a blog post and sharing their RBI financial model and anonymized term sheet, but a thorough, quantitative, industry-wide analysis has not been conducted until now.

In order to raise RBI, the company must normally be generating revenue, but is not necessarily required to be profitable, although profitability, or at least a near-term path to profitability, is often an important criteria for many investors. “For startups with revenue, RBI may be a good option because, even though the startup may not be profitable, it can reduce dilution — especially for founders,” said Emily Campbell of The Campbell Firm PLLC, a law firm that represents serial entrepreneurs and venture-backed businesses.

“Taking in some smart equity or convertible debt and balancing that money with other financing can be a good strategy for a startup,” she said. Profitability decreases the risk of default and assures that the investee has the ability to service the debt.

In regards to the applications that are best suited to RBI, B2B software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies rise to the top of the list primarily because one is able to — in essence — securitize the revenue being generated by a company and then lend capital against that theoretical security. In addition to SaaS companies, RBI is being used quite frequently in the impact investing community as it solves the problem of a lack of normal M&A or IPO exit paths for impact-driven companies and are sometimes marketed as a nonextractive form of investment structure.

Beyond B2B SaaS and impact investing, many other verticals are adopting the model as well, including e-commerce/D2C, consumer software, food and beverage, and more. It ought to be noted, however, that regardless of the specific business model a company employs, the investee is typically required to have repeatable sales and a track record that demonstrates a strong revenue stream, and therefore a clear ability to return the capital to the investors.

The U.S. RBI landscape

We have identified 32 U.S.-based firms actively investing via a revenue-based investing instrument, with those firms managing 57 distinct funds representing an estimated $4.31 billion in capital. Through our analysis of those firms, funds and investees, we found that:

  1. The number of firms and the amount of capital committed to RBI is increasing, and we forecast that this trend will continue.
  2. B2B software was not surprisingly the largest consumer of RBI,
  3. There was a surprising amount of activity across industries that are not yet typically associated with revenue-based investing such as food and beverage, consumer products, fashion, and healthcare.

Firms were included in the data set (and by extension, determined to be actively making revenue-based investments) if they:

  1. Invest in companies using an instrument where the return is generated from the principal plus a flat fee that is paid back via a fixed percentage of revenue.
  2. Payments to investors are made on a monthly (or longer) basis.
  3. The payback period is expected to be longer than 12 months.

The specific number of firms we believe to be quite accurate, representing only active, U.S.-based revenue-based investing firms. The number of funds, however, may be underestimated. This is due to the fact that, although each firm is associated with at least one fund, we did not include additional funds beyond that unless they were confirmed through other sources, such as the firms’ public communications, their SEC Form D or other sources as outlined in the methodology section at the conclusion of the full report.

The total amount of RBI capital that has already been allocated to companies across all firms and all years is $2.1 billion. However, it should be noted that this includes the outliers in our dataset, namely Kapitus, Clearbanc, Braavo and United Capital Source. Once we remove those firms, the remaining 28 firms, representing 51 funds, have allocated $592.8 million.

This figure of $592.8 million is almost certainly an underestimate due to the fact that only 19 of 32 firms had a known “amount of allocated capital,” whereas the remaining 13 firms have unknown values (i.e., zeros) for the amount of capital they have allocated thus far. Therefore, if all 32 firms had a valid and confirmed amount of allocated capital, we can logically conclude that the number would rise dramatically from the current figure of $592.8 million.

Increasing popularity of RBI

New RBI firms have been founded every year since 2013. In 2010, five firms were founded and in 2015 four additional firms were founded, then from 2014-2019, two or more firms were founded each year.

Clearly, there has been a major uptick in RBI firms being founded since 2005, with a relatively consistent number of new firms being founded over the 15 years since then. In the last 10 years alone, 25 RBI firms have been founded.

Software companies are reporting a pretty good third quarter

What a difference a week makes.

This time last week, in the wake of earnings from tech’s five largest American companies and early results from other software companies, it appeared that tech shares were in danger of losing their mojo.


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. Read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


But then, this week’s rally launched, and more earnings results came in. Generally speaking, the Q3 numbers from SaaS and cloud companies have been medium-good, or at least good enough to protect historically stretched valuations when comparing present-day revenue multiples to historical norms.

This is great news for yet-private startups that have had to deal with a recession, an uneven and at-times uncertain funding market, an election cycle and other unknowns this year. Wrapping 2020 with a market rally and strong earnings from public comps should give private software companies a halo heading into the new year, assisting them with both fundraising and valuation defense.

Of course, there’s still a lot more data to come in, markets are fickle and many SaaS companies will report next month, having a fiscal calendar offset by a month from how you and I track the year. But after spending time on the phone this week with JFrog’s CEO, BigCommerce’s CEO and Ping Identity’s CFO, I think things are turning out just fine.

Let’s get into what we’ve learned.

Growth and expectations

Kicking off, Redpoint’s Jamin Ball, a venture capitalist who unconsciously moonlights as the research desk for the The Exchange during earnings season, has a roundup of earnings results from this week’s set of SaaS and cloud stocks that reported. As you will recall, last week we were slightly unimpressed by its cohort of results.

Here’s this week’s tally:

As we can see, there was a single miss amongst the group in Q3. Unsurprisingly, that company, SurveyMonkey, was also one of three SaaS companies to project Q4 revenue under street expectations. My read of that chart is seeing a little less than 80% of the group that did project Q4 guidance that bests expectations is bullish, as were the Q3 results, which included a good number of companies that topped targets by at least 10%.

Inside of the data are two narratives that I want to explore. The first is about COVID-related friction, and the second is about COVID-related acceleration. Every company in the world is experiencing at least some of the former. For example, even companies that are seeing a boom in demand for their products during the pandemic must still deal with a sales market in which they cannot operate as they would like to.

For software companies, reportedly in the midst of a hastening digital transformation, the question becomes whether or not the COVID’s minuses are outweighing its pluses. We’ll explore the matter through the lens of three companies that The Exchange spoke with this week after they reported their Q3 results.

Ping Identity

Of our three companies this week, Ping Identity had the hardest go of it; its stock fell sharply after it dropped its Q3 numbers, despite beating earnings expectations for the period.

The company’s revenue fell 3%, while its annual recurring revenue (ARR) rose by 17%. Why did its stock fall if it came in ahead of expectations? You could read its Q4 guidance as slightly soft. In the above chart it’s marked as a slight beat, but its low-end came in under analyst expectations, creating the possibility of a projected miss.

Investors, betting on Ping’s move to SaaS being accretive both now and in the long-term, were not stoked by its Q4 forecast.

SaaS stocks survive earnings, keeping the market warm for software startups, exits

We’re on the other end of nearly every single SaaS earnings report that you can name, with the exception of Slack, and shares of software companies are holding onto their year’s gains. Which means SaaS and cloud companies have made it through a somewhat steep gauntlet largely unscathed.

There were exceptions, of course, but when we consider public software and cloud companies, the tale of the tape is somewhat clear. And it appears to indicate that today’s huge revenue multiples will stick around for a while yet.

 


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This is great news for startups, given that delivering software as a managed service (SaaS) has become the most popular business model for upstart tech companies. If the set of public SaaS companies are richly valued, it reflects well on their private peers. Warm public markets can help with exit valuations and provide encouragement to private investors to keep investing in SaaS startups.

The most recent earnings reports tell a somewhat simple story: Generally strong growth, and generally good forecasts. A few weeks back, Appian beat on revenue growth and profitability and guided a bit above market expectations. Given the nearly 50% run company’s stock that it has enjoyed in 2020, the results were welcome.

Why is cloud revenue growth so slow if the digital transformation is accelerating?

So far, 2020 has been mostly a garbage year, but it has also been consistently interesting in terms of the amount of change that it has brought.

Venture capital? Changed. Public markets? Very changed. How to go public? How about a SPAC? E-commerce? Going through a once-in-a-generation step-change. E-commerce venture investment? Down. Fintech investing? More nine-figure rounds than ever. Fintech losses? New records.

The list goes on. But amidst the signals and noise, there has been a notable theme struck by some public companies in their earnings reports, and private companies’ investors in interviews: the digital transformation is accelerating.

This concept is something that TechCrunch has covered at length this year, including this column, where we’ve chatted with folks from Twilio and Qualtrics to collect their in-market observations.

But if companies of all stripes are racing to modernize operations with more software and more cloud, why aren’t we seeing more revenue acceleration amongst public SaaS companies?


The Exchange explores startups, markets and money. You can read it every morning on Extra Crunch, or get The Exchange newsletter every Saturday.


That’s a question Redpoint’s Jamin Ball asked the other day on Twitter, posting a chart showing that most SaaS and cloud companies posted revenue deceleration in Q2 2020 compared to Q1 2020. Less revenue growth during a longer period of supposedly COVID-led digital acceleration? Odd, given what you’ll hear talking to any booster of public or private cloud companies.

Indeed, the narrative in mid-Q2 was that things were looking better than expected amongst startups, at least, and by late Q2 that many were actually catching a COVID tailwind. But if their public brethren are any indication, things could be slower among private companies than anticipated.

Layer gets $5.6M to make joint working on spreadsheets less hassle

Layer is not trying to replace Excel or Google Sheets. Instead the Berlin-based productivity startup wants to make life easier for those whose job entails wrangling massive spreadsheets and managing data inputs from across an organization — such as for budgeting, financial reporting or HR functions — by adding a granular control access layer on top.

The idea for a ‘SaaS to supercharge spreadsheets’ came to the co-founders as a result of their own experience of workflow process pain-points at the place they used to work, as is often the case with productivity startups.

“Constantin [Schünemann] and I met at Helpling, the marketplace for cleaning services, where I was the company’s CFO and I had to deal with spreadsheets on a daily level,” explains co-founder Moritz ten Eikelder. “There was one particular reference case for what we’re building here — the update of the company’s financial model and business case which was a 20MB Excel file with 30 different tabs, hundreds of roles of assumptions. It was a key steering tool for management and founders. It was also the basis for the financial reporting.

“On average it needed to be updated twice per month. And that required input by around about 20-25 people across the organization. So right then about 40 different country managers and various department heads. The problem was we could not share the entire file with [all the] people involved because it contained a lot of very sensitive information like salary data, cash burn, cash management etc.”

While sharing a Dropbox link to the file with the necessary individuals so they could update the sheet with their respective contributions would have risked breaking the master file. So instead he says they created individual templates and “carve outs” for different contributors. But this was still far from optimal from a productivity point of view. Hence feeling the workflow burn — and their own entrepreneurial itch.

“Once all the input was collected from the stakeholders you would start a very extensive and tedious copy paste exercise — where you would copy from these 25 difference sources and insert them data into your master file in order to create an up to date version,” says ten Eikelder, adding: “The pain points are pretty clear. It’s an extremely time consuming and tedious process… And it’s extremely prone to error.”

Enter Layer: A web app that’s billed as a productivity platform for spreadsheets which augments rather than replaces them — sitting atop Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets files and bringing in a range of granular controls.

The idea is to offer a one-stop shop for managing access and data flows around multi-stakeholder spreadsheets, enabling access down to individual cell level and aiding collaboration and overall productivity around these key documents by streamlining the process of making and receiving data input requests.

“You start off by uploading an Excel file to our web application. In that web app you can start to build workflows across a feature spectrum,” says Schünemann — noting, for example, that the web viewer allows users to drag the curser to highlight a range of cells they wish to share.

“You can do granular user provisioning on top of that where in the offline world you’d have to create manual carve outs or manual copies of that file to be able to shield away data for example,” he goes on. “On top of that you can then request input [via an email asking for a data submission].

“Your colleagues keep on working in their known environments and then once he has submitted input we’ve built something that is very similar to a track changes functionality in Word. So you as a master user could review all changes in the Layer app — regardless of whether they’re coming through Excel or Google Sheets… And then we’ve built a consolidation feature so that you don’t need to manually copy-paste from different spreadsheets into one. So with just a couple of clicks you can accept changes and they will be taken over into your master file.”

Layer’s initial sales focus is on the financial reporting function but the co-founders say they see this as a way of getting a toe in the door of their target mid-sized companies.

The team believes there are wider use-cases for the tool, given the ubiquity of spreadsheets as a business tool. Although, for now, their target users are organizations with between 150-250 employees so they’re not (yet) going after the enterprise market.

“We believe this is a pretty big [opportunity],” Schünemann tells TechCrunch. “Why because back in 2018 when we did our first research we initially started out with this one spreadsheet at Helpling but after talking to 50 executives, most of them from the finance world or from the financial function of different sized companies, it’s pretty clear that the spreadsheet dependency is still to this day extremely high. And that holds true for financial use cases — 87% of all budgeting globally is still done via spreadsheets and not big ERP systems… but it also goes beyond that. If you think about it spreadsheets are really the number one workflow platform still used to this day. It’s probably the most used user interface in any given company of a certain size.”

“Our current users we have, for example, a real estate company whereby the finance function is using Layer but also the project controller and also some parts of the HR team,” he adds. “And this is a similar pattern. You have similarly structured workflows on top of spreadsheets in almost all functions of a company. And the bigger you get, the more of them you have.

“We use the finance function as our wedge into a company — just because it’s where our domain experience lies. You also usually have a couple of selective use cases which tend to have these problems more because of the intersections between other departments… However sharing or collecting data in spreadsheets is used not only in finance functions.”

The 2019 founded startup’s productivity platform remains in private beta for now — and likely the rest of this year — but they’ve just nabbed €5 million (~$5.6M) in seed funding to get the product to market, with a launch pegged for Q1 2021.

The seed round is led by Index Ventures (Max Rimpel is lead there), and with participation from earlier backers btov Partners. Angel investors also joining the seed include Ajay Vashee (CFO at Dropbox); Carlos Gonzales-Cadenaz (COO of GoCardless), Felix Jahn (founder and CEO of McMakler), Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless and Nested) and Max Tayenthal (co-founder and CFO of N26).

Commenting in a statement, Index’s Rimpel emphasized the utility the tool offers for “large distributed organizations”, saying: “Spreadsheets are one of the most successful UI’s ever created, but they’ve been built primarily for a single user, not for large distributed organisations with many teams and departments inputting data to a single document. Just as GitHub has helped developers contribute seamlessly to a single code base, Layer is now bringing sophisticated collaboration tools to the one billion spreadsheet users across the globe.”

On the competition front, Layer said it sees its product as complementary to tech giants Google and Microsoft, given the platform plugs directly into those spreadsheet standards. Whereas other productivity startups, such as the likes of Airtable (a database tool for non-coders) and Smartsheets (which bills itself as a “collaboration platform”) are taking a more direct swing at the giants by gunning to assimilate the spreadsheet function itself, at least for certain use cases.

“We never want to be a new Excel and we’re also not aiming to be a new Google Sheets,” says Schünemann, discussing the differences between Layer and Airtable et al. “What Github is to code we want to be to spreadsheets.”

Given it’s working with the prevailing spreadsheet standard it’s a productivity play which, should it prove successful, could see tech giants copying or cloning some of its features. Given enough scale, the startup could even end up as an acquisition target for a larger productivity focused giant wanting to enhance its own product offering. Though the team claims not to have entertained anything but the most passing thoughts of such an exit at this early stage of their business building journey.

“Right now we are really complementary to both big platforms [Google and Microsoft],” says Schünemann. “However it would be naive for us to think that one or the other feature that we build won’t make it onto the product roadmap of either Microsoft or Google. However our value proposition goes beyond just a single feature. So we really view ourselves as being complementary now and also in the future. Because we don’t push out Excel or Google Sheets from an organization. We augment both.”

“Our biggest competitor right now is probably the ‘we’ve always done it like that’ attitude in companies,” he adds, rolling out the standard early stage startup response when asked to name major obstacles. “Because any company has hacked their processes and tools to make it work for them. Some have built little macros. Some are using Jira or Atlassian tools for their project management. Some have hired people to manage their spreadsheet ensembles for them.”

On the acquisition point, Schünemann also has this to say: “A pre-requisite for any successful exit is building a successful company beforehand and I think we believe we are in a space where there are a couple of interesting exit routes to be taken. And Microsoft and Google are obviously candidates where there would be a very obvious fit but the list goes beyond that — all the file hosting tools like Dropbox or the big CRM tools, Salesforce, could also be interesting for them because it very much integrates into the heart of any organization… But we haven’t gone beyond that simple high level thought of who could acquire us at some point.” 

‘No code’ will define the next generation of software

It seems like every software funding and product announcement these days includes some sort of reference to “no code” platforms or functionality. The frequent callbacks to this buzzy term reflect a realization that we’re entering a new software era.

Similar to cloud, no code is not a category itself, but rather a shift in how users interface with software tools. In the same way that PCs democratized software usage, APIs democratized software connectivity and the cloud democratized the purchase and deployment of software, no code will usher in the next wave of enterprise innovation by democratizing technical skill sets. No code is empowering business users to take over functionality previously owned by technical users by abstracting complexity and centering around a visual workflow. This profound generational shift has the power to touch every software market and every user across the enterprise.

The average enterprise tech stack has never been more complex

In a perfect world, all enterprise applications would be properly integrated, every front end would be shiny and polished, and internal processes would be efficient and automated. Alas, in the real world, engineering and IT teams spend a disproportionate share of their time fighting fires in security, fixing internal product bugs and running vendor audits. These teams are bursting at the seams, spending an estimated 30% of their resources building and maintaining internal tools, torpedoing productivity and compounding technical debt.

Seventy-two percent of IT leaders now say project backlogs prevent them from working on strategic projects. Hiring alone can’t solve the problem. The demand for technical talent far outpaces supply, as demonstrated by the fact that six out of 10 CIOs expect skills shortages to prevent their organizations from keeping up with the pace of change.

At the same time that IT and engineering teams are struggling to maintain internal applications, business teams keep adding fragmented third-party tools to increase their own agility. In fact, the average enterprise is supporting 1,200 cloud-based applications at any given time. Lacking internal support, business users bring in external IT consultants. Cloud promised easy as-needed software adoption with seamless integration, but the realities of quickly changing business needs have led to a roaring comeback of expensive custom software.

Zoom and CrowdStrike hang onto 2020 gains despite huge earnings expectations

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Yesterday after the bell, Zoom and CrowdStrike reported earnings. The two technology shops, members of the SaaS cohort of public companies that has performed so well this year, had high expectations to meet.

This column noted on Monday that both companies could help set market sentiment regarding SaaS valuations at firms thought to enjoy a strong updraft from COVID-19 and its related market disruptions; working from home means that many companies needed new, better video conferencing abilities and more security tooling, the two things that Zoom and CrowdStrike provide.

If the pair failed to detail strong recent performance, their share prices, long rising, could have dramatically corrected.

But, in a huge boon to public SaaS companies — and, therefore, late-stage private SaaS valuations and early-stage SaaS investment — Zoom and CrowdStrike reported impressive financial gains. Notably in the case of Zoom, the improved results were sufficiently priced in that the company’s share price didn’t rise much after this disclosure, but defending huge gains was still a difficult feat.

CrowdStrike shares did rise after it reported its results.

On the heels of one of the sharpest rallies in SaaS history, let’s dig into how quickly the two firms grew and see what their new valuations and revenue multiples tell us about investor sentiment. If you are in a hurry, the short answer is that the risk-on move towards SaaS stocks doesn’t look like its about to abate. For those bullish on software companies, it’s a good week.

Great expectations

Let’s talk numbers first. Here’s how things shook out:

AWS launches Amazon AppFlow, its new SaaS integration service

AWS today launched Amazon AppFlow, a new integration service that makes it easier for developers to transfer data between AWS and SaaS applications like Google Analytics, Marketo, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Slack, Snowflake and Zendesk. Like similar services, including Microsoft Azure’s Power Automate, for example, developers can trigger these flows based on specific events, at pre-set times or on-demand.

Unlike some of its competitors, though, AWS is positioning this service more as a data transfer service than a way to automate workflows, and, while the data flow can be bi-directional, AWS’s announcement focuses mostly on moving data from SaaS applications to other AWS services for further analysis. For this, AppFlow also includes a number of tools for transforming the data as it moves through the service.

“Developers spend huge amounts of time writing custom integrations so they can pass data between SaaS applications and AWS services so that it can be analysed; these can be expensive and can often take months to complete,” said AWS principal advocate Martin Beeby in today’s announcement. “If data requirements change, then costly and complicated modifications have to be made to the integrations. Companies that don’t have the luxury of engineering resources might find themselves manually importing and exporting data from applications, which is time-consuming, risks data leakage, and has the potential to introduce human error.”

Every flow (which AWS defines as a call to a source application to transfer data to a destination) costs $0.001 per run, though, in typical AWS fashion, there’s also cost associated with data processing (starting at 0.02 per GB).

“Our customers tell us that they love having the ability to store, process, and analyze their data in AWS. They also use a variety of third-party SaaS applications, and they tell us that it can be difficult to manage the flow of data between AWS and these applications,” said Kurt Kufeld, vice president, AWS. “Amazon AppFlow provides an intuitive and easy way for customers to combine data from AWS and SaaS applications without moving it across the public internet. With Amazon AppFlow, our customers bring together and manage petabytes, even exabytes, of data spread across all of their applications — all without having to develop custom connectors or manage underlying API and network connectivity.”

At this point, the number of supported services remains comparatively low, with only 14 possible sources and four destinations (Amazon Redshift and S3, as well as Salesforce and Snowflake). Sometimes, depending on the source you select, the only possible destination is Amazon’s S3 storage service.

Over time, the number of integrations will surely increase, but for now, it feels like there’s still quite a bit more work to do for the AppFlow team to expand the list of supported services.

AWS has long left this market to competitors, even though it has tools like AWS Step Functions for building serverless workflows across AWS services and EventBridge for connections applications. Interestingly, EventBridge currently supports a far wider range of third-party sources, but as the name implies, its focus is more on triggering events in AWS than moving data between applications.