Way back in 2010 when I was starting DoubleDutch and we were looking at how to bring the thing to market, a company we were watching closely was Yammer.
Yammer had exploded onto the scene as an early, enterprise social network and collaboration platform. Their product was fine I guess, but their great innovation was in how they were going to market. Rather than hire enterprise sales reps to get to senior decision makers, Yammer decided to go bottoms up, directly to enterprise end users. Eventually they would roll up corporate instances via an enterprise sale, but the initial “land” part of the equation was almost completely driven by self-serve, try before you buy.
This playbook became known as part of the larger trend of “Consumerization of the Enterprise;” the practice of building consumer grade software and marketing it directly to enterprise end users, riding the low friction activation enabled by the cloud. Specifically, these bottoms up services enabled employees to grab the products that they needed to be effective at their jobs, as opposed to relying on management to procure them via IT. The end result for the enterprise? More velocity, fewer bottlenecks, and actual users making solution decisions.
While we ultimately decided bottoms up wasn’t the right model for DoubleDutch, in retrospect, Yammer was clearly on to something.
Since then, Dropbox, Slack, Zoom, Atlassian, and more have perfected this approach and have built formidable, fast growing businesses by spreading via grassroots adoption at work and listening to usage signals to drive sales, as opposed to starting with the top down, enterprise sale.
But let’s hold on for a second…
How “consumerized” can something really be if it only applies to a vendor go to market tactic plus a little modern design? Consumerism is all about choice, and power, and value; value for the consumer.
To date, even with the most modern, consumery enterprise vendors out there like Zoom and Dropbox, the lion’s share of the lasting value goes to the enterprise, and not to the employee. When an employee leaves their job, there is no accrued value they can take with them, no matter how many Zooms they participated in. There is no network graph. There is no archive of content. The only value an employee takes with them to the next stop is how to use the product. ALL of the real value – network, content, IP – stays with the employer.
It makes sense right? After all, the employer is paying for these tools and owns the content, not the employee.
But the power dynamics between employer and employee may be shifting in regards to enterprise software. Consider this recent announcement from Slack; their plans are to open up messaging so that you can send and receive Slack messages to and from anyone, whether you work with them or not, conceivably allowing enterprise Slack users to use the power of Slack to strengthen their networks.
Or consider LinkedIn Sales Navigator; typically, an employer subsidized tool where the new connections (though not the message history) you make as a salesperson stay with you even if you leave your employer.
I suspect that there is more room for innovation here. Enterprise tools that deliver independent, lasting value to the employee will likely see higher adoption, which could also benefit the employer.
Here are a three areas that I’m watching that seem ripe for some additional employee value accrual that is cumulative and portable, even when they leave their current job:
- Feedback. Employees benefit from professional feedback, that is often captured in proprietary, employer owned systems. Why can’t employees take that feedback with them when they leave? Could better, portable feedback systems result in better employees? If so, companies should want to support this.
- Reputation. The best performers accumulate Reputation the longer they stay at a company in the form of performance reviews. While some of these may trickle across to the next employer in the form of career trajectory, it feels like all aspects of a personal reputation should be owned by the employee, and should be portable for their entire career. Again, it feels like companies, too, would benefit from a more open, portable vault for employee reputation.
- Professional Network. There is no bigger driver of your career than your network and your access. Why aren’t professional networks more portable from job to job? Standard HR practice is understandably to shut down email, contacts, and CRM access upon departure, leaving employees only with their LinkedIn.. Shouldn’t an employee’s professional network be gift wrapped for them on the way out? And shouldn’t employers want their employees – particularly ones in outward facing roles, to be well networked?
Again, my feeling is that the question of value accrual comes down to power dynamics. Companies will only share value with their employees if they have to (or if it clearly benefits them). But a quick look around other industries shows that changes in power dynamics may be afoot.
Adam Mosseri, GM of Instagram, recently described the power shift that is occurring away from organizations, to the individual.
“We’re seeing a significant shift in power from organizations to individuals across industries. Athletes are more relevant than teams. Musicians are going straight to their fans. More and more often people are taking their careers into their own hands.”
To underscore the boom in creators, 35% of the US is now estimated to work on a contract basis.
And what about the explosion of remote work? Could employees, unshackled from the home office command more value as their market for future employers becomes global?
This next chapter of the consumerized enterprise still feels murky. Maybe true consumer levels of power will never reach employees at an enterprise, and that the Consumerized Enterprise will only ever mean a vendor go-tomarket tactic with nice product design. Or maybe it will take a consumer first company to be able to get away with delivering employee first value, like LinkedIn or The Wing (whose membership fees are often paid by employers).
But to me, there is something interesting going on here. I do think the world is ready for more employee-first, enterprise software.
Has anyone out there seen any up and coming vendors take this employee-first approach?