Monthly Archives: March 2019

the power of even a slightly better product. (or why do people use Zoom instead of Google Hangouts?)

Old lessons die hard.Everyone of a certain age has heard the VHS verses betamax tale.

VHS was an inferior technology to betamax but it won out due to marketing, etc. After hearing enough of these tales, one starts to wonder how important a better product actually is. Is it all about marketing? That was the moral of the VHS story.

Turns out a better product … even a slightly better product … is REALLY important.

One interesting case study is Zoom — the videoconferencing solution. Now let me put my cards out there: I use Zoom at least once a day. SafeGraph uses Zoom (and Zoom rooms). I like Zoom and would recommend Zoom. And we pay for Zoom (it isn’t free).

Why does one pay for Zoom?

Well, you might say that you need a videoconferencing solution, you evaluated the market, and choose Zoom. Maybe Zoom is more expensive than its competitors but it is the best so it is worth paying for.

The problem with that logic is that one of Zoom’s most feature-filled competitors is Google Hangouts. And Google Hangouts is “free” if you are already a Google Apps customer (which 99% of technology start-ups are).

So there is a choice to be made.
Google Hangouts which is a very good product and is effectively free.
or
Zoom which is a better product (but not massively better) and is also pretty expensive.

Tons of companies need to make this choice. A lot of them have chosen to go with Zoom (as evidenced that Zoom is one of the fastest growing B2B companies). Why is this?

Of course, from a customer’s perspective, free is much preferred than paid. My company chose to use Google Drive rather than Box or Dropbox because we thought Google Drive was pretty good and did not think Dropbox or Box was enough of an improvement to justify their very high enterprise cost.

So for video conferencing, why don’t people choose Google Hangouts over Zoom?

First off, to state the obvious, Zoom is actually better than Google Hangouts on almost every dimension (the one dimension that Hangouts is superior is that it has a better integration with Google apps: no surprise there).

So if you are choosing to go with Google Hangouts verses Skype or verses GoToMeeting or verses Webex or verses one of the other dozen video conferencing systems, choosing Hangouts (because it is free and it is very good) is a no-brainer decision.

But Zoom is just better enough that people are happy to pay for it. Well, they might not bee “happy to pay” exactly. No one loves spending money. But companies are certainly willing to pay for Zoom. Zoom Rooms is an amazing product and they have really focused on a great user experience. The Zoom video quality is really strong. The mobile experience isn’t wonderful but seems to work better than most of the competition.

One of the things that Zoom proves is that you can be extremely successful even when you have a crowded category, lots of great competition, and when even your strongest competitor is giving away the service for free.

Twenty years ago no one would think that a company like Zoom would thrive.

One of the biggest trends that is driving Zoom’s success is that companies are forgoing the full stack and buying the best-of-breed. The number of vendors the average company is buying from has increased almost 10x in the last 12 years. Companies are happy to buy from many different places … they are even happy to buy from new start-ups.

In fact, it has never been easier to sell to large companies. Large companies are open for business. They want to be sold to. They are sick of having a third-rate solution. They want to use the best product. If you can show them your product is superior, they are excited to buy.

The best product is actually starting to win. Sales and marketing and partnerships are really important (as is brand), but it is so much easier to market a great product than one that is fifth-best. Even amazing companies like Google, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP, Salesforce, etc. are struggling to get their clients to use products or features if they are deemed sub-par by the customer (even when they bundle it in for “free”).

That wasn’t true 20 years ago. In the 1990s, it was really hard to sell software to a big company for less than $3 million. You had to hire Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) to integrate the software. So big companies spent most of their money buying from a very small number of big trusted vendors. And they mostly had a fourth-best solution across their stack.

Today it is much easier to buy. The SaaS revolution has changed everything. Big companies can dip their toe in the water and start for $10,000 per yer in many cases. So even if it doesn’t work out, no one gets fired. It is a low cost option to try out the later and greatest technology.

Even the most crowded markets and even those markets dominated by amazing companies are open to new ideas, new products, and new companies.

Having the right vendors is as crucial to one’s success as having the right employees … and in the case of large companies potentially even more crucial (because it might be impossible for a large boring company to hire the best people in the world but it is still possible to get the best vendors … because a software vendor will sell to everyone).

In fact, one of the best ways to evaluate a company is looking at what vendors it has. You should have a really good idea about the sophistication of the talent, the ability to move quickly, and how fast the company can respond just by knowing which vendors it uses.

Before I invest in a large public company I personally like to review what vendors it employs (you can get the data for free on a site like Siftery). The list of vendors is essentially like a DNA snapshot — no two companies are alike … and like DNA, there are some genes that are just better than others and some genes that work with each other better.

Summation: we need to take new learnings from the old lesson that superior products lose to superior marketing. While both are important, the quality of the product ultimately trumps the quality of the marketing.

Enough better than hangouts that they are doing really well.