Why Blissfully decided to go all in on serverless

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Serverless has become a big buzzword of late, and with good reason. It has the potential to completely alter how developers write code.

They can simply write a series of event triggers, while letting the cloud vendor worry about providing whatever amount of compute resources are required to complete the job. It represents a huge shift in how programs are developed, but it’s been difficult to find companies who were built from the ground up using this methodology because it’s fairly new.

Blissfully, a startup that helps customers manage their Software-as-a-Service usage inside their companies, is one company that decided to do just that. Aaron White, co-founder and CTO, says that when he was building early versions of Blissfully,  he found he needed quick bursts of compute power to deliver a list of all the SaaS products an organization is using.

He figured he could set aside a bunch of servers to provide that burst of power as needed, but that would have required a ton of overhead on his part to manage. At this point, he was a lone programmer trying to prove his SaaS management idea was even possible. As he looked at the pros and cons of serverless versus traditional virtual machines, he began to see serverless as a viable approach.

What he learned along the way was that serverless offers many advantages to a company with a bursty approach like Blissfully, scaling up and down as needed. But it isn’t perfect and there are issues around management and tooling and handling the pros and cons of that scaling ability that he had to learn about on the fly, especially coming in as early as he did with this approach.

Serverless makes sense

Blissfully is a service where serverless made a lot of sense. It wouldn’t have to manage or pay for servers it wasn’t using. Nor would it have to worry about the underlying infrastructure at all. That would be up to the cloud provider, and it would only pay for the bursts as they happened.

Serverless  is actually a misnomer, in that it doesn’t mean there are no servers. It actually means you don’t have to set up servers in order to run your program, which is a pretty mind-blowing transformation. In traditional programming you have to write your code and set up all the underlying hardware ahead of time, whether it’s in your data center or in the cloud. With serverless, you just write the code and the cloud provider handles all of that for you.

The way it works in practice is that programmers set up a series of event triggers, so when a certain thing happens, the cloud provider sees this and provides the necessary resources on demand. Most of the cloud vendors are offering this type of service, whether AWS Lambda, Azure Functions or Google Functions.

At this point, White began to think about serverless as a way of freeing him from thinking about managing and maintaining infrastructure and all that entailed. “I started thinking, let’s see how far we can take this. Can we really do absolutely everything serverless, and if so that reduces a ton of traditional DevOps-style work you have to do in practice. There’s still plenty, but that was the thinking at the beginning,” he said.

Overcoming obstacles

But there were issues, especially getting into serverless as early as he did. For starters, White needed to find developers who could work in this fashion, and in 2016 when it launched there weren’t a large number of people out there with serverless skills. White said he wasn’t looking for direct experience so much as people who were curious to learn and were flexible enough to deal with new technology, regardless of how Blissfully implemented that. – Read more

A Remarkably Large Portion of Businesses Are Still Reluctant to Embrace Cloud Computing

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Even the smallest businesses can benefit from readily available technology, so why won’t they use it?

When entrepreneur Marc Benioff launched Salesforce.com 20 years ago, he adopted an unusual logo for his startup. It featured the word “software” in a circle with a red slash across it. The logo matched Salesforce’s mission, “The End of Software” and its slogan, “No Software.”

It was a quirky marketing stunt, as Benioff himself admitted. After all, Salesforce was then, and still is, a software company. It is now a tech giant that makes it easier for businesses to manage sales and customer relations. But in the early 2000s, Salesforce sought to address a big challenge faced by many businesses: software was so damn expensive.

Back then, using software for your business meant spending a small fortune on computer hardware, including PCs and servers, and on software licenses and maintenance fees. Everything had to be set up on premise, which meant hiring a team of IT professionals or using a managed service.

Only companies with sizeable IT budgets or big corporations could afford such in-house networks. For small businesses, these were luxuries that they would not even consider having.

But then things changed.

It began with the rise of cloud computing, which allowed companies to access computing power through a network of powerful computers and storage devices, instead of spending huge sums on in-house data centers. This trend has been called “utility computing” because it essentially turned computing power into a utility.

The cloud also paved the way to make software more accessible to businesses and consumers. It enabled software developers to transform to a service-oriented business model by deploying their software remotely, in the cloud, and then selling software as a service instead of shipping software packages that customers had to deploy on site.

That’s what Benioff did at Salesforce. He was a pioneer of what has come to be known as software-as-a-service, or simply SaaS.

Instead of spending thousands of dollars on hardware and  IT networks, businesses could pay for software the way they pay for a newspaper or cable subscription. They access the software by logging into the Web and pay a monthly or annual fee based on the number of account users and/or the features that come with the package. No more hefty licensing, maintenance fees and expensive in-house IT systems.

The cloud and SaaS made access to sophisticated software programs affordable for small businesses, including mom and pop shops.

But many small business owners are still reluctant to embrace the cloud completely. A new Gallup poll found that only half of small business owners surveyed believed technology and digital platforms are “an overall plus for the businesses.” The poll also found that roughly 40 percent didn’t think upgrading their small business technology would have a significant impact on business. Another report in 2017 published by Deloitte also found that many small business owners are “not fully embracing the digital age.” – Read more

Website builder Strikingly raises $10M Series A+ to continue growth in China

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Almost exactly one year after announcing its Series A, website building platform Strikingly said today that it has raised a $10 million Series A+. The new round was led by Cathay Capital, with participation from CAS Holding, the lead investor in Strikingly’s  Series A. This brings Strikingly’s total funding so far to $17.5 million.

Co-founder and CEO David Chen tells TechCrunch that the funding is “technically a Series B level round for us,” but the team wanted to call it a Series A+ because the capital will be used to continue the momentum of products launched around the time of its Series A, including a mobile website editor and a reseller program, as well as its growth in China. (Series A+ rounds are also more common in China, where Strikingly has an office in Shanghai and is one of the most popular website building services).

“The A+ is a natural continuation of what we’ve been doing since our Series A,” Chen says.

Founded in 2012, Strikingly doubled the size of its team over the past year from 150 to 300 employees. The reseller program, launched in early 2017 after the company realized many Strikingly customers use the platform to build sites for other people, now has users in 70 countries. This year, Strikingly’s goal is to continue growing the program in Asia and introduce more features to help resellers with customer acquisition. The reseller program allows them to buy websites in bulk and gives them a dashboard to manage their clients’ sites. While Strikingly’s core product will continue being its website builder, Chen says its reseller program has helped boost its growth in many markets, particularly Southeast Asia. – Read more

How early on should I be able to detect scalability problems in a SAAS business?

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Pretty early.

Even today, with much more elastic systems than just a few years ago, I see resource contention, downtime, and other issues start to pop up constantly with hacked apps around $500k – $1m in ARR.

In other words, just as you are finally figuring it out and getting to Initial Traction.

In the beginning, the customers will forgive you when the app is too slow here and there, or unavailable for a bit … you are a new vendor after all.

But they won’t forgive you for that long. You get about 3 chances.

Then they move on, if not literally, then in their hearts and minds. – Read more

 

6 tools to conquer multicloud management

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Scalr, RightScale, Red Hat, Pivotal, Morpheus, and Embotics take aim at multicloud deployment, management, and cost control

Life changed for programmers and operations teams when the cloud arrived. Instead of waiting weeks, months, and sometimes more than a year for new hardware to be purchased and provisioned, the cloud of servers makes it possible to get a new idea up and running in seconds with just a click or three.

Alas, every great leap forward usually comes with some backsliding. Now that anyone can start up a server in seconds, everyone is doing just that. The number of machines is proliferating and our jobs are now dominated by the task of herding the dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of machines. Where we once could keep everything straight with a clipboard or a checklist in a Word or Excel document, now we need serious tools to juggle everything.

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Programmers have solved this challenge as they solve everything: by creating another layer of code that stores bits in another set of tables in another database. In this case, the code is a hydra-headed tool sometimes called hybrid cloud manager that can connect to all of the clouds out there, create and destroy machines on its own, and at the same time fill its own database tables with lists of the machines and where they are.

These so-called multicloud or hybrid cloud management tools keep track of our machines and make it possible to orchestrate hundreds or thousands of instances so the work gets done by the cheapest, fastest, and best-configured option. They also make it possible to blend multiple public clouds with in-house servers to lower overall costs, improve security, enhance redundancy, and support world-wide operations.

Do you worry about “cloud lock-in?” That your code may run only on one cloud, leaving you with no alternatives? These hybrid cloud management tools are designed to prevent that from happening. Your developers should be able to ask for a cloud machine for a particular purpose, and the multicloud manager will deliver the best fitting option, whether it’s in your local hardware or in any of the supported public clouds. – Read more

Do startups have more trouble scaling SaaS from a technical or business perspective?

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The problem is they tend to bite you at alternating times.

Getting the first 50-100 or so customers rarely breaks a hack. But even just after that, downtime, data issues, etc. start to become material. In other words, just as you are getting sales finally figured out!

Then usually, things break again around a few million in ARR. Just when you have the salesteam first built 🙂 The bandaids on the hacks don’t scale another order of magnitude. Should we refactor? Rebuild? Or put bandaids on the bandaids?

Finally, everything tends to break again around $8m-$10m in ARR, unless you’ve put in place a great VP of Engineering by then. The CTO/co-founder’s limitations in hiring, scaling infrastructure, etc. begin to reveal themselves in all new ways. Right when you are ready to Go Big!

So as annoying as the answer is, it’s Both. And usually, right when the other one is finally working well.

You need to get all the VPs in place by $4m-$5m in ARR if you can. If you do, you’ll push past it. – Read more

L-SPARK Join Forces With Stripe To Help Canadian SaaS Companies Grow

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L-SPARK, Canada’s largest Software as a Service (SaaS) accelerator, has partnered with Stripe, the leading technology company building economic infrastructure for the internet, to facilitate Canadian SaaS startup growth globally. The startups from the L-SPARK accelerator program will gain access to merchant payment technology and will be able to better manage their businesses online with the help of Stripe’s online payment platform.

Canada has produced some of the top leaders in today’s SaaS marketplace, such as Shopify and Freshbooks. Yet, early stage Canadian SaaS companies often struggle to scale into globally competitive firms that generate large revenue. Already the premiere destination for Canadian SaaS startups, L-SPARK’s partnership with Stripe signifies the accelerator is doubling down on its efforts to help SaaS startups build and scale globally.

“This is an exciting partnership. As one of the first accelerators in Canada to become a partner, and as the premiere SaaS accelerator, this partnership opens up a lot of potential for our companies.” said Leo Lax, Executive Managing Director of L-SPARK. “SaaS companies depend on a reliable and global online payment system. Stripe provides not only a global facility, but a great partner for growth. We are honored and excited to become a Stripe partner.”

Stripe designs economic infrastructure on the internet, and businesses of all sizes use its software to accept payments and manage their businesses online. With Canadian eCommerce revenue expected to rise from roughly $30 billion CAD in 2018 to over $36 billion by 2021, the need for an online payment system for startups is vital.

Stripe’s merchant payment processing technology will become readily available to startups in the L-SPARK accelerator cohort. It gives these growing Canadian SaaS companies access to a world leader in online payments and helps to facilitate business relationships on the global market. For L-SPARK, partnerships with global leaders like Stripe increase the value the accelerator can offer its portfolio of companies, and the startups will benefit from the development of a working relationship with a global corporation.

“Partnering with L-SPARK in Canada will help us further our push for the removal of online commerce barriers around the world,” said Alex Litwin, Account Executive at Stripe, “This collaboration, we hope, will help Canadian companies start up and scale up more quickly across the globe.” – Read more

Website builder Strikingly raises $10M Series A+ to continue growth in China

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Almost exactly one year after announcing its Series A, website building platform Strikingly said today that it has raised a $10 million Series A+.

The new round was led by Cathay Capital, with participation from CAS Holding, the lead investor in Strikingly’s Series A. This brings Strikingly’s total funding so far to $17.5 million.

Co-founder and CEO David Chen tells TechCrunch that the funding is “technically a Series B level round for us,” but the team wanted to call it a Series A+ because the capital will be used to continue the momentum of products launched around the time of its Series A, including a mobile website editor and a reseller program, as well as its growth in China. (Series A+ rounds are also more common in China, where Strikingly has an office in Shanghai and is one of the most popular website building services).

“The A+ is a natural continuation of what we’ve been doing since our Series A,” Chen says.

Founded in 2012, Strikingly doubled the size of its team over the past year from 150 to 300 employees. The reseller program, launched in early 2017 after the company realized many Strikingly customers use the platform to build sites for other people, now has users in 70 countries. This year, Strikingly’s goal is to continue growing the program in Asia and introduce more features to help resellers with customer acquisition. The reseller program allows them to buy websites in bulk and gives them a dashboard to manage their clients’ sites. While Strikingly’s core product will continue being its website builder, Chen says its reseller program has helped boost its growth in many markets, particularly Southeast Asia.

When Strikingly launched back in 2012, it set itself apart from other website builders by focusing on easy to build, but polished-looking mobile responsive sites. Now mobile responsive sites are de rigueur for any website builder, but one of the things that continues to differentiate Strikingly from its competitors (a partial list includes Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and WordPress) is its ease of use. The company claims that the average time to launch a new website with Strikingly’s editor is just 10 minutes. – Read more

How do SaaS business find out how to much to charge for their products?

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You copy other, more established applications. Most importantly, copy someone that provides similar value to roughly similar buyers.

Most software costs only pennies to deliver in the cloud. Maybe millions to develop, millions to market, and million to sell. But only pennies in hosting and delivery costs.

So how much should you charge for it? There is no way to base this on any underlying cost basis for most of us. Not for pure software.

The good news is, your buyers have been trained. They’ve been trained by market leaders like Salesforce, Slack, Box, etc. to pay certain amounts in certain ways for certain types of products.

Just look at the 2 or 3 big, public SaaS companies that are most similar to you in terms of true value-add, and buyer. Be honest. We aren’t all worth $200+ a seat like Salesforce.

They maybe charge 70-80% of that to start.

That should be OK to start. – Read more

SAP’s cloud analytics update offers insights in seconds, not months

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With a refresh of its cloud analytics tools, SAP hopes to bring users new insights into their data more quickly and take some of the workload off the IT department.

It’s not that the previous analytics tools were all that slow; it’s just that to get the most out of some of their features, you needed a team of data scientists to build the right reports.

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Now the company is using machine learning to help SAP Analytics Cloud users zoom in on key data correlations, according to Mike Flannagan, SAP’s senior vice president of analytics.

“You will be able to get some of the same type of insight that you would normally require a data science team to build for you — automatically,” he said.

SAP’s goal is to solve a resource crunch that’s reminiscent of the business intelligence systems of a decade ago.

“When you wanted a new dashboard or report you had to open a new request with IT, and they had quite a large backlog, so it might be three or six months before you got the dashboard you wanted,” said Flannagan. “We’re now seeing a similar kind of bottleneck with data science teams.”

SAP Analytics Cloud won’t automatically create complex data visualizations for you, but it will watch what you do and offer simple recommendations for which database fields to compare in a line of text at the bottom of a chart.

“The machine learning product realizes that you’re trying to predict a certain field and will give you a clue automatically that says, ‘Did you know that X is the most influential thing in determining Y?’” Flannagan said. “We believe we get to an answer that’s 97 to 98 percent of what a data scientist would ultimately find in terms of accuracy, without you needing to wait for that data scientist.” – Read more