Photo: Preetha K/Mint
Photo: Preetha K/Mint

Design, ease of use key for enterprise software start-ups

Enterprise software start-ups are trying to gain an edge over rivals by designing products that don't require users to pore over training manuals

Bengaluru: It’s not like enterprise software start-ups suddenly want to hire the next Jony Ive, the famed design expert at Apple Inc.

A regular product design expert will do.

With the ubiquity of consumer apps and with the emergence of successful, easy-to-use software products such as file storage provider Box and work messaging app Slack, enterprise software start-ups are trying to gain an edge over rivals by designing products that don’t require users to pore over training manuals in order to figure out how to use them.

A few years ago, hiring a product design specialist would’ve been unusual for a start-up, especially an early-stage one, whose target audience wasn’t the public at large. Enterprise software is typically associated with clunky grey-scale windows, long load times, multiple esoteric steps to move forward and menu bars filled with more options than you know what to do with.

This approach to enterprise software is fast becoming dated as ad tech firms, data analytics providers, communication tools, work management software providers and other enterprise software start-ups try to make cool products. The aim isn’t exactly to provide a so-called seamless customer experience of the kind cab-hailing app Uber has, but to increase the product’s usage and build customer loyalty by making it simpler and more fun to use.

Most products that deal with complex technologies are built in a manner that would confuse many users, even those who are good with tech, said Kiran Gopinath, chief executive officer of ad tech firm Adadyn Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which was earlier known as Ozone Media.

“For instance, ad tech software traditionally forces a user to punch in anywhere between 20-150 specifications to get rolling. This isn’t viable and ends up alienating customers. For our new product, our goal was simple—democratize previously inaccessible technology—and we ensured that all a customer has to do is enter the four to five specs most relevant to him and not worry about a thousand other things," Gopinath said. “It took us a lot of time and effort to come up with the platform but that is what you have to do if you want to build a quality product that caters to the masses."

Ankit Sobti and Abhinav Asthana, co-founders at Postman, a management tool for application programming interfaces, recruited product design expert Abhijit Kane as their first employee, giving him the status of co-founder.

Sobti said the three of them started out with the aim of building a product they would enjoy using, for which product design expertise is an essential skill. “From day one, we have been very focused on making sure the user experience is exceptional. If you go to any blog, the first thing that people talk about is how easy it is to use," Sobti said.

The software tools of Postman, promoted by Postdot Technologies Pvt. Ltd, are used by more than 1.5 million developers across firms such as Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc.

At Frrole Inc., a social media analytics firm that counts e-commerce giant Snapdeal, ESPN and the Aditya Birla Group as its clients, design is a key element. “A lot of thinking which goes into making consumer products now goes into B2B (business-to-business) products as well. Eventually it is not a company which is using the product, it is the people. So you have to make things better, easier to understand, intuitive for that customer," said Nishith Sharma, marketing head, Frrole.

Ease of use is one of decisive factors for customers and for some investors when it comes to selecting product start-ups.

Postman customer Kaushal Sanghvi is a case in point. Sanghvi, the founder of BreathingRoom Inc., a workspace hiring start-up, said the company chose to use Postman partly because it is easy to use and can be downloaded simply as an extension on Google Chrome, which can be used across different operating systems.

Making software products easier to use is especially important for start-ups that cater to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), many of which are first-time software users. Selling to SMEs is considered to be one of the biggest potential growth sources in enterprise software globally.

“SMEs share many similarities to the consumer segment; they want to adopt easy-to-use, well-designed plug-and-play software, ideally on the cloud, which can they access from their existing laptop or smartphone," said Manik Arora, managing director at venture capital firm IDG Ventures India. “This is where the consumerization of enterprise software comes in. Indian software companies that can build such products, combined perhaps with a price-to-cost advantage, would be well placed to go after the SME segment globally."

Design and usability are among the most important things he looks for when making an investment, whether the product is for businesses or consumers, angel investor Sanjay Mehta said. “If you want to work in the enterprise, don’t say ‘if I build they will come’, it does not work like that. The consumer is spoilt for choice."

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