Happy Birthday AppExchange — Thank you for the opportunity.
App Stores have changed the perception of software forever. New generations will grow up knowing how to search for, evaluate, and buy software. When I was growing up the Internet was still new. The idea of people all over the world visiting your site or using your software was incredible. As the Internet has established itself and online payment and distribution of services has become commonplace we no longer share software like in the shareware days now it comes paid for on an AppStore.
As the story goes Salesforce invented the term “AppStore” and infact granted the trademarks and domain to Apple in 2008 when they launched the iOS AppStore (3 years after the AppExchange). Now that very first AppStore, the AppStore for businesses is now 10 years old.
Happy Birthday AppExchange! 🍰 🍾
10 is very old in Internet years, more comparable to dog years than human years. This would make the AppExchange 53! So what was the world like in 2006? …Tony Blair was still Prime Minister here in the UK and George W. Bush was President. In Sport Zinedine Zidane was headbutting people at the Football World Cup. This is the same year Microsoft thought Vista was a good idea, Jack Dorsey sent the first tweet and you were probably hacking a marquee tag onto your MySpace profile.
I cannot imagine a world without Twitter as much as a world without the AppExchange. I believe in the idea of business app marketplace so much that I built my business on it.
Back in 2012 Salesforce announced AppExchange Checkout — this allows apps listed on the AppExchange to be installed and purchased immediately. Checkout gave the AppExchange a subscription billing component. Now you can use the AppExchange for distribution, licence management, trials, and subscription billing. This grabbed my attention, I could develop an app, list it, and then sell it in my sleep as a self service B2B SaaS app (later i found out this is not the full truth).
In 2013 I started experimenting with the AppExchange by developing and releasing a small component app that upgraded standard Salesforce lookup fields with search as you type, the app was called Autocomplete Lookups. It worked great and people loved using it. This app was designed not for its business potential but to help me understand the mechanics of the AppExchange, how companies bought apps and how I could reach them. This app initially sold for £10 per company per month, and later at £50 per company per month (the 5x price change made no difference to interest and sales). I had plenty of interest but never the killer growth needed for such a low price point. The customers loved it, it was a good app, but people were not paying for it (ultimately I could have moved it to free but eventually the mechanism used was locked down in Summer ‘14.). The lesson I learned here was the difference between free and cheap is vast but the difference between cheap and not so cheap is almost zero.
As Autocomplete Lookups was seeing only mild interest I started to figure out what would really work, and what I wanted to do. In a previous life (around 2010) I had spent time forking an internal project management app used within Salesforce R&D called ‘GUS’ (released as the Agile Accelerator in 2015). The company I was working for found it couldn’t do everything it needed with Atlassian Jira and had good success with Salesforce so this was worth a try. In the end it wasn’t. While management had a good view of everything it failed at providing tools for the developers — something Jira does very well. Although this was not a runaway success the experience left an impression on me. Perhaps it wasn’t right for 300+ developers but it might work for small dev team. The lesson I learnt here is that an internal IT team should not try and build products unless those products are the core business.
Fast forward to 2013, I started building my own Agile Scrum project management app for Salesforce which at the time I was calling Scrumboard. It was very early on but it had some great features including: Burndown charts, Sprint planning wall, Backlog prioritisation, detailed history of user stories and their movement between Sprints.
As Scrumboard was in development I kept thinking about who the customer was. I kept coming back to the value proposition, “an Agile Scrum project management app running on Salesforce”. I’m sure people would want to use it, but pay for it? Takes me back to my first lesson:
The difference between free and cheap is vast.
In early 2014 as I was continuing to develop Scrumboard in my own time I kept noticing how people in all different roles organised the stuff they were working on. Some people just used email, some used To do lists, others used apps like Trello, or Asana. At this time there was a proliferation of task and project management apps. I noticed that it took large projects and adotption strategies to get teams using Salesforce but these same teams were self-selecting apps like Asana and Trello. They were simple, they were fast and they started free. It twigged. Take the drag and drop sprint planning board from Scrumboard and you have a fast and flexible task management app native to Salesforce. This was the moment where most of the features in Scrumboard were thrown out, I doubled down on the task board and there you have Taskfeed. Taskfeed for me was the idea of creating an elegant and simple app that blended the UX of a consumer app with the scalability, security and flexibility of the App Cloud platform.
The first version of Taskfeed launched in mid 2014 this was a very early MVP all it had was the drag and drop task board. I found some initial customers and used their feedback to continue building.
Throughout 2014 and into 2015 Taskfeed continued to improve with new features being added, like the Gantt view, dependencies, calendar integration, multiple task owners, checklists, and project task templates. Not only were more features added but the product got better looking over time too.
Thanks to the AppExchange I was able to go far beyond scratching an itch. This would never have been possible without the distribution offered by the AppExchange. As a solo-entrepreneur I have managed to bootstrap a micro SaaS business through product development and into profitability. In 2015 I managed to quit my day job and take a small team to Dreamforce as an Exhibitor. If you take anything away than it should be that AppExchange has provided a democratising platform for developers and entrepreneurs to have an equal footing. I cannot wait to see AppExchange 10 years from now. #appexchange10