Why a Bad Economy Rocks for FOSS/SaaS Startups

The down market seems to be working in our favor. This probably isn’t going to news to some of you, but I thought I’d share a few random thoughts on this.

As a FOSS (Free, Open Source Solution) company, that also offers a cloud-based software-as-a-service option, we’re sorting through more deal opportunities than we can handle right now. We’re hiring based upon real growth … which is the ultimate barometer of any startup’s progression.

“A down market is a great time for an emerging company to secure a beachhead against established players.”

CIOs and other tech decision makers still have the same problems to solve within their organizations, they just don’t have a blank check book to work with anymore.  No one ever got fired for bringing in a Microsoft, Avaya, SAP, or any other market leader to implement a solution.  But if they can’t afford to do that, they can either look to a startup or smaller company for a solution, or postpone the project until the market gets better. Tech decision makers like to be heroes, so cater to that.  Give them a solution that makes sense to them in a down market. A down market is a GREAT time for an emerging company to secure a beachhead against established players.

So how do you cater to them in a down market?  I suppose there isn’t one correct answer – it will vary depending upon your business, but … here are some thought starters based on what we’re seeing.

Startups can be more agile and creative with pricing and infrastructure. You don’t have 25,000 mouths to feed.  Yet … :) You have a handful.  Be aggressive with pricing – don’t try to get your whole nut on your first deal or two.  Get creative. Options are limitless – per seat, per transaction, per CPU hour, etc.  Are those up-front professional services fees getting in the way of closing the deal?  Waive them, and incorporate them into a transaction fee where the customer can pay for them over time.

Make your solution solve a real problem. In this market, the checks are being written to solution providers who can truly offer an efficiency or savings (of either time or money, or hopefully both).  If you aren’t doing this, you probably won’t last in the enterprise space. Don’t make your internal champion go back and explain why his or her boss needs to write a check to you.  Instead, arm them so they go back and show how much time and money they’ll save by bringing you in AND how painless it will be to get started. Everyone wants an on-demand solution these days – the days of NIH are shrinking.

If your solution doesn’t really solve a problem – make it solve one.

Get the deal DONE (especially if it involves a reference customer). If you can do this, others will dial down their perceived risk of entrusting a critical function to a startup provider.  It could even be worth losing money on a deal like that if you know it will open other doors for you – plus it slows your burn or at least helps you get to breakeven.

Put it in the cloud. Hardware is now a commodity.  It is a lot easier and cheaper to build a cloud solution these days.  Blade server prices are down to incredibly advantageous levels.  And if you can’t or don’t want to do it yourself, check out Scalr.net, which has a fantastic interface around Amazon’s EC2 service.

Enterprise services are the “ultimate mashup”. If you are an enterprise services startup, and you can effectively add value somewhere in a chain of web services, you have a decent shot at surviving this “Great Correction” as I’m calling the current market – but you are going to have to get deals done outside of the box.

Would love to hear some other thoughts …



  1. Hey Scott, I completely agree with your summary. Thanks to our SAAS services, our deal flow is strong even in this economy.

    http://www.present.ly – Meet Less, Know More

  2. EC2 and S3 are awesome. We have been using it with hadoop nad a modified map reduce structure for quite some time to perform all of our semantic intelligence and machine learning.

    I reviewed the alpha versions of azure due to internal contacts at microsoft but it fell short.

    ted tanner

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