Why and how to integrate your solution with other software — by Jonathan Anguelov
“I’m Jonathan, the co-founder of Aircall. Basically, Aircall is a phone system for companies, with a software approach, that helps companies all over the world create their phone system in a minute. And the big thing with Aircall is that it integrates with all the tools that companies are using.
Either it’s a sales team that uses a CRM. Either it’s a help desk that is being used by customer service. We integrate with all of them and it was really core in our strategy.
So now I will explain to you why your solution should really integrate with other software, why it will help you long term to grow and to retain your customer.
How did we come up with the current software ecosystem?
In the beginning, a long time ago, there was an “on-premise” business. So, you had this big software, really complicated, that you had to get installed by the people that were selling you the software. You were paying, most of the time, a lifetime license. A license that you would pay once and then the only thing that you will pay is for the maintenance or for the evolution of that software.
It was really kind of a very big product that does a little bit of everything. Most of the time, when you do everything, you don’t do it very well. So, there was the on-premise. Very complicated to set up, very expensive to maintain a non-native integration basically. If you want it to integrate with specific software, really a pain in the ass.
The small evolution was starting to with a little bit of SaaS. The mix of on-premise and SaaS. You still have today some on-premise software with a license model, but on-premise in a way that you set it up on your servers. You must maintain it and it needs a lot of development. Even though there is like a kind of SaaS model that you pay every month and that you can in a way integrate with other software. The big example is like SAP. It’s a mix of both. When you want to do integration, you can do it. But it’s very expensive and very complicated to do because the software we’re not imagining that way.
What happened then is that we had the SaaS coming. The idea of the SaaS is that it’s a software as a service. This evolution will be with you. With every evolution of the software, you don’t pay anything new. You pay once — your license every month and that’s it. That’s all that you pay and then you can integrate with other software.
You had the API that started to exist early 2010 and now it’s like common. So, this is the evolution. Let’s get into a bit more detail why it’s important to do those things to integrate.
Do not reinvent the wheel
As a co-founder of a start-up and we’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m happy to discuss them all. But one of the main mistakes that you will do as a founder is trying to reinvent the wheel. Trying to do something that already exists and that has been proven for years it works and you try to just change this way.
Things that exist for years and work perfectly do not have to be changed. You can improve some stuff and look for that. Don’t do crazy things that you are the only one that might think it works. Ask people around yourself, always!
The legend of the “Omni-canal product”
When you build your product, don’t try to have it all. Don’t try to be this product that you think you’re going to be the OS of the company. Your product should be specialized in one problem that you want to fix or several. But don’t try to have all the features, everything.
The key to the success to me and to several entrepreneurs you will notice is to focus on what you have and make your product adaptable. Open it! Make it possible for others to build on top, so through an API or through an integration partner that will do it for you and that will bring business to both of you.
Have an API. Be API-centric! Make people be able to build on top of your software. This is happening every day at Aircall. They say, “I want the specific things with my software or with my backend,” or whatever.
At that point, let them do it and it’s amazing because it will create retention and it makes your product really open to others.
Focus on your vision
So, one important thing is to focus on your vision. Your vision is the most important thing you have. If you don’t have a vision, you have nothing basically.
“Your vision matters more than a lead”
You will always have this client that will come to you and say, “I will buy your product if you do that. I have 1000 people that I can put on your product and I will make you rich basically.” Please don’t do that. Your vision is more important than this guy. Even though you might think, hey, short term it’s amazing. The VCs will love it and they will want to invest because my cohort looks amazing with this kind of clients. Don’t do it, please.
Do not work for one customer either. It comes from the same idea. You don’t want to focus all your time on some guys that want very specific things. Make them build it. Give them the power to build this basically and make it as service as possible. That’s the idea is to help them build it if they can. So, you give them the keys to your API, to everything, so that they can build on top and it will give your ideas to do that.
Integrate with real business partners
The big thing for me is when you make your product, think about your business partner. Who are they? Are they competitors of yours? No, of course not. They’re probably guys that have a very similar kind of clients and you need to find them. Why? Because if you don’t have an integration partner, either you will have a very siloed product, or your product is a standalone product. You want your product to communicate with other products possible. It will allow you to build your product faster.
At Aircall, when we started, we had this vision of a phone system for companies. We thought, hey, it’s important to integrate the phone system with all the tools the company uses. If we want it to make like a crazy product that does everything, we would have been with our own CRM. But it doesn’t make sense. What makes sense is to integrate with the top guys that have their CRM.
Use their features to give value to each of your customers. So, it will allow you at the end to have integration partners. It will allow you to build your product faster and in a better way because you have two specialized products, one with each other and it’s working the best. This, of course, will generate you more revenue and will give you access to different distribution channels.
All our integration partners are real partners. They’re giving us leads all the time, and we’re growing thanks to them as well. Our integration partners are bringing us today between 30 and 40 percent month over month of new leads. This is part of our growth, and they will be part of your growth as well if you have them.
Of course, the most important probably is that your product becomes sticky. It becomes sticky because it’s integrated with several tools with probably your main tools and then why people would leave because it’s so complicated. Their process is around this. So, it’s creating retention.
Build a product that looks global
What you need to build at the end is a product that looks global and that will be global later.
Your product is a little product in the middle of the ocean. What you want to do is integrate with top SaaS players which have the same ICP (ideal customer profile). You want to integrate with them to share their clients and make sure their clients find value in your product and vice versa.
At this point, what will happen is that you will create your API. It will open the ideas to other people. They are going to think “Hey, I can do that with my tool as well and I want to do it actually”. So, your API exists, and people are starting to build on top of it, which is really powerful.
At some point, some smaller company will come to you and build their own integration and even the bigger company will call you and tell you, “Hey, I want to build this new product. Can you build it with us?” It’s what happened to us. This is the kind of thing that you will get, and you’ll get a new inflow of leads.
Who are you finally? You’re now a platform. People can build on top of you and you can build on top of them. Your product is super sticky. So, if your product is super sticky, you will get better retention, no churn, or less at least than if your product is just a standalone.
At this point, normally if everything goes right, you are in a hyper-growth, because you have a bunch of leads coming from everywhere, from your integrations, from new integration, from your outbound sales, from your inbound, a bit from everywhere.
The most important thing for products is to be able to communicate with other products and not being just this standalone product that works on its own and that is very easily changeable.
The tricky things about integration
The bad part of the integration. Of course, it cannot be only nice things. There are a few tricky things that you need to address quite early and that you want to avoid.
The truth is that the more integration you will create, the more maintenance you will have. That was one of our mistakes. After one year of the products, a few thousand dollars of MRR, we say, “OK, let’s do 10 integrations at once.” In three weeks, we have 10 integrations. Then we realized, one of the integration partners, like Zendesk, changes a little something in the product. Everything changes. We need to recode, et cetera.
It’s a lot of maintenance. You must be careful the way you’re creating this integration and at what speed you’re doing them, to avoid being in the situation where finally all the time, you’re like spending all your time at fixing those integrations. You want to avoid that.
Interdependence with your partners
When the partner changes something, your road map will be impacted. So, you have to be ready for that because you cannot have any downtime on your product because the downtime will not depend on you anymore only. It will also depend on your partner that builds something and that is changing something in his products.
Either the partner has a downtime, you got a downtime. If the partner changes something, he has no downtime, but you have downtime on this part of the product. So be careful. It’s one of the important things that you should monitor, and you should create very early when you have integration. Dedicated tech people on it, dedicated product people that know how to fix things and improve if there is a problem.
“The integration is meant to help the people, not to make it more complicated.”