• February 22, 2013
  • This post is part of an occasional series on the AppExchange as celebrates the seventh anniversary of its launch.  The series will focus on some of the most interesting AppExchange applications of the last year.

    If Zapier didn’t exist someone would have had to invent it because the service it provides is that critical to many small businesses.  The easiest way to think about Zapier is as an integration company for Web services, kind of a mashup on demand.  This small company of fewer than ten full time employees, doing business on the AppExchange, acts as part of the glue that brings together AppExchange apps with other web services.  Working with the AppExchange API set, Zapier produces integrations — that they call “Zaps” — for more than 160 web services.

    Zapier has produced more than 25,000 integrations and though not all of these integrations involve Salesforce, many do.  The company boasts more than 1,500 Salesforce customers — many with multiple Zaps — as users with more than two hundred using Zapier to integrate web seervices with, Salesforce’s help desk solution for the small business market.

    Zaps or mashups couldn’t be easier to make using Zapier.  There is no coding to deal with and a user can create a Zap in a browser screen by simply dragging and dropping the relevant product icons and choosing pre-built actions.  And just to make sure the result is what you really want, an English version of the mashup is displayed right on the screen.  For instance, “When a New Subscriber in Campaign Monitor occurs, Zapier will automatically Create a Lead in Salesforce.”  That’s it and there’s no limit to the number of Zaps a user can make between products.

    The SMB space is where Zapier does its best work.  In addition to Salesforce CRM, the company has integrations ready to go with a variety of services that small businesses (and some large ones) can readily take advantage of such as ecommerce, email marketing, billing, accounting and invoicing and sentiment analysis and more — 23 categories and growing.  The actions and their triggers are coded by Zapier and delivered as standard components.

    Not long ago a company needed to have significant resources to enable it to coordinate activities between so many diverse applications and web services but that’s changed.  Zapier, like all services on the AppExchange is a SaaS solution and the company has four pricing plans starting with a freemium and topping out at $99 per month for a company.  Zapier has so far grown more or less organically deciding which products it integrates with through customer requests.  Zapier is happy to take customer suggestions and offers a place on its site to make this possible.

    Many enterprises using Salesforce CRM will have more traditional integrations with other applications.  But Zapier serves a growing market of small companies that need to bring together best of breed solutions through simple integrations at very low cost.  The Zapier model works well in this area and serves to breakdown barriers between important web services and potential customers.  It’s a great example of a long tail solution — something that may not have huge market appeal but which is a perfect fit for many customers.  The AppExchange provides a niche for Zapier by providing a ready clientele and a streamlined sales and marketing process.

    Published: 11 years ago

    The AppExchange is undoubtedly a significant portion of what makes unique.  Pre-integrated solutions dramatically reduce the cost to the customer to extend the capabilities of Salesforce and the fact that it has already gone through growing pains means it will take other providers years to mimic its capability and impact.  

     ~Narinder Singh, co-founder and CSO, Appirio

    Nine Years ago I wrote The New Garage.  It was a thought piece that tried to peer into the future of Software as a Service (SaaS) and make some predictions from a business and economics perspective.  Salesforce had recently started promoting its platform in the making (then called S-Force) and encouraging third parties to develop applications that complemented and extended the basic Salesforce CRM solution so there was reason to speculate about the impact this new approach would have.

    But also, the history of business and industry is a long story of better, faster and cheaper and at that moment all three were all in the driver’s seat.  Back office software had already demonstrated many business process improvements leveraging automation and the Internet, and I thought it was time to turn some of these techniques on software.  SaaS was a good start but it had further to go, I thought.

    Early impacts lead to tipping point

    I saw S-Force as a tool and an economic system that could revolutionize software, making it possible to create and deploy it in a just in time fashion.  At that time you almost had to be nuts to think that.  After all, even after the initial success of SaaS, software was still something you installed and slaved over for a long time before you got it right, not something you could just plug in like an appliance.  And integration?  Don’t ask! What was I thinking?

    “We’re at a tipping point,” that’s what I was thinking.

    The cold, hard truth of the matter was that you couldn’t expect to sell software subscriptions for a few bucks a month and encumber yourself with all the overhead of a traditional software company because you’d go broke.  Something had to give.  Either software would forever be something you sculpted from a block of marble or you had to figure out how to stamp out perfect copies that plugged in and just ran — no excuses.

    My bet was that we could do the stamping but it wasn’t based on any hard economic data. It was based only the conviction that commoditization would have to continue and that something like what’s now the AppExchange would be the result.  In truth, there were predecessors to the AppExchange.  Steve Jobs opened an online store at NeXT in 1997 and six years later in 2003 Apple set iTunes in motion and today you can buy tens of thousands of apps at the AppStore for all your Apple devices.

    All in a name

    It’s hardly remembered today but the AppStore (name and domain) were originally Salesforce properties and that CEO, Marc Benioff, gave them to Apple.  According to a 2008 Benioff interview with Bloomberg, Jobs had met with Benioff and his team in 2003 to offer advice on the Salesforce online store and the gift was a gesture of gratitude by Benioff to Jobs.

    A store for enterprises

    But those were consumer sites; there had never been an online application store for enterprise grade software until launched the AppExchange in January 2006.  This year marks the seventh anniversary for AppExchange an odd anniversary to celebrate perhaps, but a good chance to look at the AppExchange to see how well it is living up to the original vision.  Here are some of my observations.

    • The partners have built a long list of useful solutions including HR systems, field service, accounting systems, sales tools and marketing automation products.  These are systems that enrich the Salesforce experience but at the same time represent application areas where Salesforce has decided not to concentrate its resources.  Where Salesforce has stepped aside, the partners have stepped in.
    • The AppExchange created the opportunity for a very long tail of credible business solutions.  In the more than 1,700 applications you can find on the AppExchange, there is a host of small applications that just make life easier for the Salesforce customer; some are strategic and many are exceptional.  They are applications that integrate with other applications, distribute incredibly fine-grained information and automate processes in unlikely ways that just happen to work well for populations of users who need those exact solutions.
    • The AppExchange is a good place to do business for companies of any size, especially for SMB’s.  Many AppExchange vendors tell me that they make their living building and servicing their apps to the point that the permutations of Salesforce CRM with partner applications is, if not infinite, then at least very large (roughly 1700! or 1700 factorial).  I had predicted this in The New Garage but I had envisioned problems with revenue splits and single sign-on.  Both challenges have been dealt with.
    • Perhaps most importantly, enterprises go to the AppExchange to find and buy solutions.  One of the constant refrains I hear from AppExchange CEOs is that enterprise buyers find them on the AppExchange and buy solutions through it.


    So here we are after seven years and the AppExchange is by all measures a big success. This blog is the first in a short series of posts that report on the AppExchange’s growth and the success of some of its many partners from small boutiques to large businesses.  This series pays particular attention to ten AppExchange partners that distinguished themselves last year including in no particular order: TaskRay, TOA Technologies, Contactually, The TAS Group, Tango Card, Zapier, Apttus, KnowWho, nCino and KXEN.




    Published: 11 years ago