The future of great cloud companies is Engineers!


I’m currently in San Fransisco stopping for a few days to meet with a bunch of companies ahead of my talk next week at Alfresco DevCon in San Diego. It’s great to be back and I’ve been meeting with loads of smart start-ups, entrepreneurs and companies that we may use or partner with for our own Cloud service at Alfresco launching later this year.

The thing that’s struck me the most, is that the companies I was most impressed by, not just in their product and technology, but culture and point of view, were all originally founded or are run by great Engineers. I may be biased as I am myself an Electronic Engineer, but as I think about some of the stories recently about DropBox, Facebook, Google, Apple and other hot companies right now, they were all founded by great Engineers and Developers.

And this is why I think it matters. I’m a Cloud guy, I’ve shifted from Enterprise software on-premise (which I used to deliver in Accenture) to Cloud because this is where I believe the future of our industry lies. And for me Cloud is not just a new delivery channel for the same old software, but a way of creating way better products, that end users actually like, that solve their needs. The Cloud has democratised access to any software for any user, and IT is no longer the gatekeeper.

So in this new world order, the products themselves are becoming increasingly important. When a user can sign up for free or a 30 day trial, and will usually decide in the first 5 minutes if they’re going to bother using the product or not, which ultimately determines if they’re going to pay, the products become the marketing and the sales combined. Many of the cloud companies I met the past few days have one person who is the sales guy, and the rest is all engineering. And because the engineers focus on building great products, they don’t need an Enterprise sales force to push their products into the organisation. Users are adopting their products and pushing them into Enterprises themselves.

And its affecting me and my choice of who to partner with. I’ve met really expensive companies where my meeting was with a proper Enterprise sales guy. They need to charge more to support the direct sales model, they need to sell to ultimately overcome the poor design of the product themselves. In fact I believe traditional Enterprise software companies have got away with sub-standard products because the sales people have effectively covered up all the holes as they push the products into the Enterprise. I even know this from SambaJAM, I had to sell to overcome the shortcomings of the early product.

On the opposite end, we have the other companies who you call up, and you speak to an Engineer. Sure there are some sales people there, large deals with more complexity will always require them, but the sales guys job is way easier, I’m already sold on the product, the sales guy is there to manage the paperwork so we can sign up and answer any remaining questions. For me its becoming a warning sign if the first person I bump into is a (usually grey) Enterprise sales guy and not an Engineer. Their product probably isn’t that great, and I’m going to have to pay loads for it!

I look at Microsoft, founded by two great developers, and how its effectively started going downhill since the developer left and its now led by a former sales guy, Balmer. Just watching his interviews makes me wonder if he really gets it, and if he doesn’t, then Microsoft doesn’t have a chance in hell. Just looking at their new Cloud offering, Office365, just proves to me that Microsoft doesn’t get whats really happening in today’s world. And I wonder if the recent change of fortunes between Microsoft and Apple are the biggest signal that something has fundamentally changed in the world and how people and Enterprises will consume and buy the next generation of devices and software.

While there will always be a place for large, salesy companies that will continue to make a lot of money like IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, I do wonder what our industry will look like in 10 years, I suspect like Apple overtook Microsoft by focusing on great products and consumers (which are now proliferating Enterprises today already) the IBM’s, Microsoft’s and Oracles will be a dying breed and the majority of the next wave of Enterprise Software companies will be filled and led by great Engineers building elagent, great products.