Where are the greenfield opportunities in SaaS?
SaaS is no longer a new business model. One look at any of the market maps for marketing tech, sales productivity apps, HR tech or other functional areas within enterprises would tell you how crowded these traditional enterprise software landscapes have become… Is there another billion dollar company to be built in some of these areas? Sure, and I’m actively looking for those. But where are the large greenfield spaces? What are the areas that haven’t seen a modern piece of software in years? I believe most of the greenfield opportunities in SaaS today are beyond the traditional horizontal/vertical enterprise software areas. As new distribution and pricing models emerge, and a younger workforce looks for modern software tools even in the most old school industries, some of the hitherto untapped areas are becoming ripe for SaaS to penetrate. Here are a few areas I am beginning to see some interesting startups emerge in:
- Government software: I think the combination of the recent hires the Obama administration has made + the stark difference in the quality of software government officials use in their work vs. personal lives has gotten to a point where we are going to see huge SaaS opportunities open up across a spectrum of government functions — better software to manage elections, create/manage/store documents and forms, communicate with citizens, allocate city and state level resources, finance management, budgeting etc. Traditionally, selling to governments has been associated with long sales cycles and conservative buyers. But I think that’s beginning to change. Am increasingly coming across early stage startups seeing great traction selling to states and municipalities, in some cases while deploying an inside sales model, which would have been unthinkable even 3–4 years ago.
- On-demand services for the enterprise: The on-demand economy has had a great run over the last few years. The model that Uber and Airbnb pioneered is now being deployed to all forms of consumer goods and services — food, groceries, car valet, laundry, spas etc. But surprisingly, to me, one area where on-demand startups haven’t focused enough is the enterprise segment. Workplaces have similar needs as households and individuals — food, office supplies, cleaning, maintenance/repair services, transportation, legal and accounting services etc. My view is that we will start seeing some interesting startups come up that offer similar on-demand services with an exclusive focus on enterprise needs. ManagedbyQ is a great example of a company that’s leveraging this opportunity.
- SaaS for the hourly worker ecosystem: Historically, most of the big enterprise software companies have been built around addressing the needs of knowledge workers. Salesforce, Workday, Zendesk, ServiceNow, Veeva, Marketo, Tableau are all examples of software that address the needs of knowledge workers. This is largely driven by two factors: (1) Knowledge workers tend to spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen and the software workflows they use are mission critical to their daily output and (2) Knowledge workers tend to have more budget to spend on software. However, with everyone owning a smartphone now and freemium distribution models having proven out, almost everyone now stands to benefit from the power of software. Uber, Lyft and Instacart are the most obvious examples of startups that have leveraged the penetration of smartphones and built massive franchises with 1099 workers on one end of their marketplaces.
- Heavy industry software: Heavy industries like construction, mining, oil and gas etc. are still primarily using legacy on-premise solutions in various aspects of their business. From project management to cost/budget management to big data applied towards machine optimization, there is a ton of greenfield opportunity in these industries. With smartphones and tablets everywhere, field workers in these industries now have the opportunity to use software to make better decisions on the go… Why wouldn’t these industries leverage modern software to drive higher efficiency gains than they’ve ever had the opportunity to?
What other areas are ripe for SaaSification, according to you?