Smartsheet - Inside Google Apps Marketplace

Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | 11:38 AM

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Editor's Note: Brent Frei is founder and chairman at SmartSheet. Smartsheet makes an online project management solution that employs a spreadsheet-like interface on top of a powerful work automation engine. We invited SmartSheet to share their experience with the Google Apps Marketplace.

The Challenge

Last summer, the Smartsheet team had what I expect is a fairly typical Software as a Service (SaaS) company priorities discussion: should we integrate with one of the big application marketplaces? Here are some of the questions we considered:
  1. Are our customers asking for it?
  2. Will it give us access to a significantly larger lead flow?
  3. Do the people that use these apps typically pay for them?
  4. Would our target customer expect to find our type of tool there?
  5. What does the competition look like on each platform?
  6. What is the scope of the development effort?
Then, do the answers to any of these choices outweigh the benefits of the alternatives on our broader list of priorities?

Decision Time

Google Apps seemed to rank highly across all 6 criteria. Of the dozen major application marketplaces competing for ISV mindshare, Google Apps seemed to be the most natural 'upstream app' from Smartsheet. Google Apps customers were most likely to 'look next' toward solutions that are addressed by our application.

Weaving SmartSheet collaboration and workflow features in amongst the Google Apps was a very natural fit for our users. As you can see in the video, the familiar spreadsheet-like interface and direct access from the Google menu bar makes Smartsheet an effective companion app. The integration of Smartsheet with Google Apps turns the combination into the company's operating software.

It was therefore fortunate that the Google Apps APIs proved to be just as natural a fit. Well done, well documented, easy to implement and, as we later discovered, solid developer support.

The Details

Once the decision was made, we dedicated one senior architect and one product manager to designing and delivering the integration. It required about 4 days of technical investigation to validate the design concepts. The Google Apps API documentation and developer support were first rate, which made the delivery nearly as easy as the design.

Virtually every part of Google's application stack had a natural fit within our customer's common workflow.

  1. Universal Navigation and Single Sign-on
  2. Move Data to and from Google Spreadsheets
  3. Attach Google Docs to Any Row
  4. Open any attached file as a Google Doc
  5. Synchronize Contacts
  6. Display & Manage dates between Sheets & Calendars
  7. Share individual parts of the sheet via Gmail
We divided the development into two phases based largely on the availability of the specific Google Apps APIs. Mail and Calendar were phase 2, everything else was phase 1. We had a single, mostly dedicated developer for the effort.

Stage 1

We first implemented single-sign-on via OpenID and Google Docs API integration using OAuth for standard Google Accounts. This included data import/export, attaching Google Docs to rows, uploading office documents to Google Docs, and importing Contacts. We then extended this integration to support Google Apps users. These features were rolled out in Q3 of 2009, well in advance of the Google Apps Marketplace launch. It took a senior developer roughly 6 weeks to implement this first stage. With the core integration features completed, we were able to quickly implement new Apps Marketplace functionality, including Universal Navigation and the Licensing API, as they were made available in the sandbox.

Stage 2

We are developing full-featured Google Calendar integration, utilizing both the Google Calendar Data API and Calendar Event Gadgets, to be delivered in May 2010. Gmail integration will follow quickly, utilizing both the OAuth access to IMAP and SMTP and Gmail Contextual Gadgets. With the experience we have integrating other APIs, the development of these features is greatly simplified, as the infrastructure – implementation of OpenID, OAuth, and the GData Java Client Library – is already in place.

The Mechanics

We chose to enter three variations of Smartsheet into the Google Apps Marketplace: two mainstream solutions and one emerging technology solution.

  1. Smartsheet Sales Pipeline for Google Apps
  2. Smartsheet Project Management for Google Apps
Emerging Technology:
  1. Smartsheet Crowdsourcing for Google Apps
The decision to start with the Project Management and Sales Pipeline applications was based on the belief that they would have the broadest appeal to two Google Apps customer types: Small Businesses and Large Scale Education customers.

We included Smartsheet Crowdsourcing as a test of an entirely unique product that pushes an emerging trend.

The Results

Google Apps Marketplace has performed very well across several of Smartsheet's key performance indicators.

Strong Leads - the percentage of signups that accrue a statistically significant quantity of behavioral actions within the application. A strong lead is highly correlated with an eventual paying customer.
Convert to Paid - the percentage of total leads that eventually become paying customers.
Average MRR - Monthly Recurring Revenue is the average monthly spend of the leads that become paying customers.

The statistics are fantastic, and have improved the profitability of our customer acquisition programs significantly. Today, we get "free" leads generated by SEO, PR and buzz (Non-Paid). These are the Holy Grail source of profitable customers. We add $2,160 a month in recurring revenue for every 1,000 leads that come in via non-paid channels. At $1,740 a month per 1,000 leads, Google Apps Marketplace is also a very profitable channel that brings up the overall averages (subtract the 20% Google is planning to charge for Apps customers).

None of the statistics above matter without lead volume to power them. That's where the Google Apps Marketplace really makes these numbers sing. We've seen a very meaningful increase in high quality, non-paid lead flow directly attributable to Google Apps customers.

Our customers cite Smartsheet's tight integration with Google's Data APIs as a key factor in their decision to purchase. A common theme emerging in the feedback is reflected in this comment from a manufacturing company president: "Smartsheet is making the Docs component of Google Apps more useful to our team."

Moving Forward

Customer requests for features and enhancements to our Apps integration have already started pouring in. They are great guideposts toward attracting a larger percentage of these great Apps users.

The Google Apps Marketplace is a rich source of customers, so staying above the noise as it attracts more ISVs will be a priority. We're confident we can continue refining our product and services to deliver a superior solution. And, we'll count on the Google team to value customer success and application utility as primary criteria for rating and ranking the vendor directories.


Daeng Bo said...

Thanks, Brent, for this article. It's a much deeper insight into financials and related than outsiders normally get from a start-up. This allows new developers to make informed choices, something that.s very hard to do.


Jim Ramia said...

Thank you for posting. Very nice. I'm attempting to do the same thing for a client of mine.

TaylorAMiles said...

I think what I find most interesting is the the "strong lead" does not flow through to the highest conversion? Maybe this is just because the marketplace is now and many of the users who exhibit "strong lead" behavior might actually be just other market participants testing it out?

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