With Fujitsu’s Latest Move, GetApp’s Cloud Business App Platform Just Got Interesting

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This week Japanese tech giant Fujitsu acquired an obscure French company called RunMyProcess for an undisclosed amount. This “integration Platform as a Service” (iPaaS) company offered a platform to allow businesses to build and deploy business workflow apps in the cloud using simple drag and drop functionality. It sounds mundane enough, but the acquisition looks like being yet another pointer to a future where business applications are integrated in the Cloud, in much the same way systems integrators using creaky old servers would do the same with software. But one small startup, GetApp, is quietly building both a vast archive of these cloud-based business applications and the means to make them work together in a simple enough way that means that millions of small businesses can access business apps previously only available to large enterprises.

Earlier this century when Barcelona-based entrepreneur Manuel Jaffrin (pictured, on the left) ran the now non-existent ‘Web 2.0′ section of Sun Microsystems he got a glimpse into the future. “While interacting with startups I saw how cloud apps would eventually replace the software used by businesses,” he tells me. Meanwhile, Christophe Primault (pictured), at the time the founder of a software security startup, was having trouble getting distribution for his application. The two met and realised there was an opportunity to create a startup to act as a marketplace for business applications.

According to Forrester, business-focused SaaS apps are the leading and fastest growing segment of the cloud computing industry in the main because small businesses see it as a way of accessing enterprise-class applications that are normally out of reach. Take for example Base which brings a really good looking and powerful sales and CRM application to small businesses.

Jaffrin and Primault realised that closed app ecosystems would not serve the needs of the huge proliferation of SaaS startups. The Salesforce App Exchange, for instance, would always be limited to the Sales Force ecosystem.

What was needed was a ‘vendor neutral’ marketplace.

So together they launched GetApp in 2010, positioning the startup as a vertical search engine for software, SaaS and cloud-based business applications on one side and a means for application providers to reach qualified buyers and lower the cost of acquiring new customers on the other. Business buyers would be able to shave off weeks from the purchase cycle of new applications.

GetApp would garner revenues from revenue shares on the use of the apps or from charging app providers to promote and advertise their apps on the site.

The site now lists 5,000+ apps from 20,000 vendors making it arguably the largest business app marketplace today.

Vendors now include the likes of Basecamp, Salesforce, Dropbox or Zoho, among many others. Available app categories range from CRM to marketing automation solutions, HR and project management tools to accounting and business intelligence applications.

To date over two million businesses have now used GetApp to discover the SaaS product they need from a catalogue of 5,000 cloud-based business apps, with the vast majority of its users in English speaking countries like the US. Every month 150,000 new businesses turn up to use the platform and 100 new SaaS vendors sign up.

GetApp has managed to turn the chaos of the business cloud apps in into order. Instead of spending hours trying to good for the right sales tool or CRM product, customers simply put in a detailed query into GetApp and can search 200 categories, read reviews for 300+ products and 2,000+ user generated reviews.

For instance you can get it to search for an email marketing tool connected to Salesforce which also has an iPad app. This is the kind of search that Google just can’t handle.

Customers can also browse “how to guides”, infographics and eBooks about the apps.

But, Jaffrin and Primault were not satisfied with simply being a marketplace. They realized small businesses would want to connect these apps together to automate tasks and break data silos. The alternative would, for example, mean laborious cutting and pasting between a contact database and a CRM product. Small businesses needed, as the SMB Group recently predicted, real integration.

So October 2011, GetApp secured $1.1 million from Spanish-American investment firm Nauta Capital to achieve this.

Thus, in October last year they launched CloudWork, after acquiring Portuguese startup Tarpipe. This meant GetApp could integrate the apps in their marketplace and offer their own service.

CloudWork’s competitors include Zapier, OneSaas, itduzzit and the aforementioned RunMyProcess. Zapier is targeted largely at technically competent users who need to do a lot of customisation, but this is unsuited to small businesses. OneSaas is more oriented towards accounting processes. Itduzzit.com/ meanwhile concentrates on “pre-packaging” apps. But all are quite different.

Since launching, CloudWork has added 30 apps to the platform including, Google Apps, Mailchimp, Zendesk and Evernote, and released over 250 packaged integrations which don’t reacquire a small business to have in-house technical skills to integrate these apps.

Although CloudWork is still in Beta and is not yet being actively marketed by the company it has already attracted over 4,000 business users that have executed over one million integration tasks. Companies can also ‘daisychain’ apps using CloudWork, opening up a world of possibilities.

And what of the future?

Jaffrin says that despite raising their last round of funding in 2011, GetApp doesn’t need to raise funding again as it’s profitable. The majority of the investment has gone instead into CloudWork, which has created a new opportunity in its own right.

Prior to using something like CloudWork, app vendors had no way of knowing where their best sales might come from due to the difficulty of tracking the use of their APIs. Instead, CloudWork has become a way to hack into another vendor’s ecosystem.

So, for instance, an app vendor could now tell that 50% of their users are also integrating their app with another app from Saleforce force. This means partnerships and alliances can be forged where non previously might have existed. It means the app vendor could do specific campaigns within another vendor’s ecosystem. In some circles this is known as ‘growth hacking’.

Is it possible that a small, 13-staff startup in Barcelona in an office over-looking a children’s playground could be on the cusp of a new wave for business applications? If the move by Fuijitsu recently is anything to go by, the answer might be yes.