This is part 3 of a 6 part series on the trends that are changing Software-As-A-Service (Saas) for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs):
🛒Trend #1: Shopify’s growth creates new markets
🍉Trend #2: Restaurants fight for independence from delivery and discovery platforms
👋 Trend #3: Work, reinvented - Below
👔 Trend #4: The rise of vertical biz management software
🤴 Trend #5: HR made simple(r)!
👹 Trend #6: Bookkeeping becomes understandable
If you'd like to have your company featured in this article, feel free to reach out! We would love to hear from you.
Intro: Hybrid work reinvents work
As we all experienced over the past two years, Covid-19 forced companies to adopt remote-first or hybrid models. Meetings are replaced with calls, daily connections happen on messaging apps, and unexpected and authentic "water cooler conversations" enjoyed at the office have largely disappeared.
The challenge is not to replicate the “old” behavior we can have at the office, but to reinvent communication to be more productive, effective, and genuine in a remote environment.
1. Synchronous communication apps
Synchronous communication has been the preferred channel to discuss complex subjects within most traditional organizations.
Synchronous video call app: Teams from Microsoft, Hangout from Google, Zoom (US) or Whereby (Norway) successfully managed to go downmarket. They developed both an enterprise and SME business model with a low-touch sales model and accessible pricing. The space is well-capitalized and competitive and is mainly composed of video call platforms.
In this crowded space, emerging players have a highly differentiated value proposition. For example, Kudo (US) is a video-call software connecting translators and participants, allowing anybody to talk in their mother tongue and get an instant translation. Spatial.io (US) is a VR call software that can be used to sit next to a colleague and collaborate in real-time.
⭐ Video-call power-ups: Otter.ai (US), Grain.co (US), Echo (UK), Trint (US), Spoke (France), Fireflies.ai (US) Macro (US) record video calls, provide a transcript, and make them searchable. It helps teams in obtaining clear meeting summaries, analyzing calls, and then taking relevant action. Chorus.ai (US), Gong (US), Modjo (France), or Bonjour.io(France) are video-call solutions designed for sales teams. They analyze granular data points and interactions during a sales conversation and give insights to a sales manager on why a specific deal was won or lost.
⭐ Meeting preparation: Hera.so (France), Popwork (France) Shepherd (Norway), Leapsome (Germany), Soapbox (Canada), Fellow(Canada), Intro.so (Poland) Docket (US), Range (US), Hugo (US), GetCollective (France) help to set and run productive meetings by collecting feedback before a meeting, providing a space to prepare calls and assigning upcoming tasks.For example, Shepherd is an all-in-one dashboard, connected to calendars, where users can structure meetings and take call notes. Warmly (US) provides customers with background information about a call’s participants. Amie.so (Germany) is a to-do list, which can be exported as meetings in a calendar.
⭐ Impromptu interactions: Video call interactions often feel like inauthentic exchanges. Employees suffer from communication friction, loneliness, and a lack of genuine interactions. Virtual coffees barely work to facilitate relationships between colleagues as meetings need to be scheduled in advance, removing any authenticity. Solutions such as Remi.so (Germany) seek to create rituals that team members can engage in together, but the interactions are never as genuine as in-person meetings.
A new approach is being pioneered by companies including Orbital.chat (UK), KosyOffice (UK), Pragli (US),Teemyco (Sweden), Remotion (US),Wonder (Germany), Cosmos.video (UK), Teamflow (US), Hallway (US), Gather (US), Work Adventure (France), Wurkr (UK), Remo (US), Branch (US), LoopTeam(US) or Tandem(US). These companies have built 2D environments, where colleagues can virtually sit next to each other in a game-like world.The mic and video can be turned on, and a conversation can start as team members mimic office interactions in a virtual environment. In a remote-first environment, these platforms want to bring back spontaneous questions, brainstorming meetings, or collaborating on a document side by side.
2. Asynchronous communication apps
Excessive meetings are increasingly considered a real problem for small, medium, and large companies. Live meetings are a better method of exchange if the matter is urgent, and the conversation provides measurable value to the whole audience.
Otherwise, asynchronous communication is a better solution. Communicating asynchronously has multiple benefits such as (1) being less time-consuming; (2) helping remote employees to communicate over multiple time zones; (3) allowing employees to evaluate information before providing an answer; and (4) allowing anyone to research past discussions which led to a specific outcome.
⭐ Asynchronous voice/screen sharing apps: Claap (France, part of our portfolio), Loom (US), Yac (US), Mote (US), Slash talk (US), Riff (UK), Standups (Germany), VoiceLine (Germany) Supernormal (remote), Acapela (Germany) seek to replace unproductive meetings with asynchronous voice notes and screen sharing clips.
These solutions help to break classic one-hour-long meetings into small asynchronous messages or clips. The technical progress made on video call enrichment allows them to provide transcripts. The clips are transcribed, searchable, and shareable, either via a link or directly on a dedicated collaborative platform. Any user can research particular information that was shared months ago, or react to a specific sentence asynchronously.
⭐ Secure messaging apps: 43 percent of cyber-attacks are focused on small businesses (reference). With attacks costing on average $200,000, any communication tool should match privacy-compliant and security standards, including those used by SMEs.
Flip (Germany), Guild.co (UK), and Element.io (UK) have built privacy-first and customizable messaging apps for employees. Messages delivered via these apps are encrypted through protocols, such as the Matrix network in the case of Element.io. They aim to build a safer place for SMEs to interact and exchange key information between professionals.
⭐ Productivity-first messaging apps: Messaging apps like Slack and Teams can become distracting as soon as messages start flowing constantly. Some users feel overwhelmed and disorganized, to the point of muting the app for the whole day. This productivity issue is tackled by Quill (US) or Threads (US). They have built productivity-first messaging apps, where conversations are structured in a thread-like format, which makes the chat more accessible and focused for the reader. Employees are only notified in case of essential matters, and over time these notifications become increasingly more personalized as employees become notified of the posts that are relevant to their work and interests.
3. Project Management Software
⭐ Generalistic project management software: Asana (US, IPOed), Monday (US, raised $234M), Trello (US) created generalistic project management software with a kanban-like approach, to set up tasks, deadlines, to-do lists, flag ownerships, and share relevant information. They help teams plan and execute. Further players like Taskade (US), ClickUp (US, raised $138M).
⭐ Project management software for product teams: Product managers have been torn between generalists (like Asana) and engineer-focused project management software (like Jira). Productboard (US), ProductPlan (US), Roadmunk (Canada), AirFocus (Germany), Craft.io (Israel) have built platforms dedicated to product managers. Just like generalist platforms, users can organize workflows, set up priorities, but also build a roadmap, and collect user feedback. For example, Product board integrates with tools like Zendesk or Slack and incorporates live feedback from colleagues and customers to make decisions. As a single product feedback repository, they help product managers to prioritize the next features to build, and execute on their vision.
⭐ Project management software for creative teams: Video creators also benefit from having dedicated project management software. Heraw (France) and Frame.io (US, acquired by Adobe), Filestage (Germany), or Wipster (US) have built intuitive platforms that allow internal and external stakeholders toreview and manage videos. These solutions are used by media companies and agencies to store videos, collaborate on current productions, share feedback, and set up priorities through to-do lists.
4. Other communication channels
⭐ Visual collaboration software: Mural (US, raised $142M), Lucid (US) Miro (US), or Klaxoon (France) have built real-time collaboration whiteboard solutions. The tools can be used for ideation and brainstorming, diagram models of complex workflows, or project management organization. They aim to become the reference for mind mapping and design thinking. These tools have massively benefited from remote-working as teams are looking for ways to stimulate idea development.
⭐ Internal knowledge base tools: Notion (US), Slite (France), Nuclino (Germany), Tettra (US), Trana (Germany), Kipwise (Estonia), and Slab (US) have developed intuitive and modular website builders, which are often used to document company rules, processes and policies. These tools can be used to centralize knowledge at an organizational level. Omni (US) and Northshore (US) have built platforms that are connected to all the internal knowledge sources in a business (such as Zendesk, GSuite, Tettra, etc) and aggregate questions, that are answered on the same platform.
⭐ Connecting multiple communication software: A feature can be discussed on Claap, the integration is evoked on Github, and the roadmap is managed on Asana. The conversations are stored in silos, making it difficult to deal with data dispersion. As businesses scale over time, the multiplication of collaborative and messaging platforms can become a major pain point.
To solve these issues, all conversations can be centralized in one interface. Nuffsaid (US), Compose (US), Back (Germany) or our portfolio company RocketChat (Brazil, part of our portfolio) integrate with mails, popular apps, and Google suite amongst others, to bring all conversations onto one dashboard. All the touch points are now on one platform. Gmelius (US) or Swit.io (US) connect productivity software. They have built two-way integrations between Google suite and external software (like Trello or Slack). The users can delegate and answer a mail directly on Slack, or turn a conversation into a kanban.
5. Other productivity software
⭐ Access a workstation from anywhere: Our computers make us more and more demanding. We multitask all day long: Slack is running in the background, a dozen tabs in our browser are feeding memory-hungry cloud-based solutions, and software such as Adobe or Microsoft Office are in constant use. Over the years, our PCs struggle to keep up with our need for ever more powerful computing solutions. Replacement costs start being problematic both for large companies with many employees, and small ones with a low budget.
This problem can be solved with cloud computing software. A powerful virtual PC is streamed on the user's screen. Suddenly, all the demanding computing tasks are solved in seconds via a data center and streamed via high-speed internet connections onto the user’s screen. This approach has been the core concept of solutions like Nvidia GeForce Now or Google Stadia in the gaming space.
Office cloud computers like Anydesk (Germany), or Shadow (France) (which recently launched a B2B offer), Flaneer (France), Omny Cloud (France), or Reemo (France) and cloud browsers like Mighty (US) make CPU, GPU, or RAM irrelevant matters as these virtual machines have the power to run any demanding software more effectively. These solutions allow anyone to benefit from a high-tech PC, starting with just a screen and an internet connection, no matter their hardware.
⭐ Process Automation: SMBs can automate repetitive tasks in a few clicks or lines of code.
Zapier (US), IFTTT (US), Pipefy (US), Tines (Ireland), Integromat (Czech Republic) are no-code automation platforms. They come with a clean interface, where users can connect apps, and automate repetitive tasks such as sending an email via MailChimp automatically as soon as a prospect is added in Salesforce.
There are also solutions being built for technical users. Calling APIs has always been a struggle, as developers need to read hours of documentation for each API and manage the respective infrastructure. Tray (UK, raised $108M), Pipedream (US), n8n.io (US), Autocode (US) allow users to build, deploy and manage public and private APIs easily via lines of codes.
If users want even more control, SMEs can rely on robotic processing automation software (RPA) such as Airslate (US) or Automation Hero (US). Through screen scraping, they can create autonomous agents (bots), which can automate repetitive tasks. For example, Airslate can be used to generate pre-filled contracts, negotiate them, and even integrate signatures and payments.
Many thanks to Ilan Nabeth for the invaluable research that made this series possible, and to Yusuf Janahi and Anna-Stella Fetha for your contributions!