I’m becoming increasingly convinced that, amidst the bevy of web startups and app developers rushing to build consumer-facing products and services, the business-to-business space holds increasing opportunities for startups and small businesses. Small businesses, and let’s define them as companies with less than 20 employees, make up the majority of businesses out there, and most of them are either offline — barely online — or are underserved in terms of tech support, web development, and everything in between.
We just covered Silver Lining, a company that aims to help SMBs increase their profitability by helping them analyze their operations, set reasonable and attainable financial goals, and, most importantly, help them take action to realize those goals. Or there’s Bizness Apps, which helps SMBs quickly create quality mobile and web apps, or On Deck, which helps SMBs find loans without all the hassle.
This psychology resonated with Deven Patel, a serial entrepreneur and web software engineer, who tells me that the key (even in spite of what I’ve just said) is creating products and services not solely based on the market, but based on what entrepreneurs have found to be areas of need (or structural deficiencies) in their experience — or that of their customers. In Patel’s case, he said that he’s found that small businesses spend up to 80 percent of their time collecting data and creating reports on their customers’ interaction with their services, among one hundred others. It’s a pain in the ass, time consuming, and he thinks he’s found a simple way to solve the problem.
This week, he launched the open alpha/beta of Cyfe, what I think of as a “TweetDeck for business analytics”, which allows business owners to easily monitor and share their vital business data and analytics from a single location, in realtime.
In other words, Cyfe isn’t a business intelligence solution, it’s a command center for SMBs, which can be set up in a matter of minutes and is initially free. At the outset, Cyfe integrates with over 25 popular services, like Salesforce, AdSense, MailChimp, Amazon, Facebook, WordPress, Zendesk and Twitter, so that business owners don’t have to log in to each of these services individually to find out what they’re customers are up to — and what they’re saying about your business.
In his experience, Patel says that existing products in this space were either too technical (in that they required IT support or programming), too focused on enterprise (not optimized for startups and SMBs), or too expensive ($2K to $100K per month). What’s more, small businesses were wasting way too much time piecing together their own internal dashboards, so the founder developed a cloud-based service that small businesses can use to monitor their Twitter accounts, or monitor website uptime with Pingdom.
Cyfe offers three different templates, or dashboards, for businesses, agencies, and management. Agencies, for example, spend an enormous amount of time manually gathering performance data every day/week/month for their clients, so with, Cyfe, they can set up individual dashboards for their clients, which can be shared privately. The read-only dashboards provide their clients with a realtime view of progress the agency is making by tracking traffic via Google Analytics, SEO efforts on SEOmoz, etc. The same is true for management, allowing them to keep track of customer relations and traffic without having to go to IT for the latest updates.
Cyfe’s business model, like so many other software and web startups, is freemium. The pricing starts at free and works up to $50 a month, depending on how many services users want to manage in their dashboards. The free plan allows users to connect to five different services, 20 services for $10 a month, and so on.
This is where Patel hopes Cyfe will have a leg up on companies like GoodData, which starts at $2K a month and can be tough to use, whereas Oracle is also expensive and more focused on enterprise-grade business intelligence and analytics. Solving the price and complexity problem can mean big opportunity.
Of course, with a widget-based system, which requires companies to connect their various services to Cyfe to open the gateway so that data can be viewed in one dashboard, security is essential. Small business owners without a ton of web or technical experience, may resist tools that require them to share their prized asset (their internal data), especially with a young startup with a beta web presence.
Patel was quick to point out that security is top priority for he and his team, and that the widgets that require login details use OAuth for authentication and thus don’t store any login details in their databases. For those that don’t have OAuth capabilities, Cyfe uses AES encryption, which was developed by the U.S. government (and is now used widely), to protect the data. Cyfe also has a few widgets that don’t require login details, like Twitter FeedBurner, and SEOMoz, which he says he thinks users may like because, in the example of Twitter, it allows SMBs to monitor the Twitter accounts of their competitors from their dashboards as well.
Patel did say that a Twitter widget which does show personal data from your Twitter account will be available in later versions of the widget, and the same goes for others, as they receive feedback and crowdsource the tools and versions that are most used (and called for) by their users.
I think that Cyfe may have to raise the amount of widgets they offer (five) for their free plan to entice users to start testing out the product for free, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think their pricing could even be steeper. Even the smallest, most capital-strapped end of the SMB spectrum is willing to fork out some cash on a monthly basis for a service that saves them a big chunk of time. Patel said that he is still working out the most optimal pricing scheme, but he’s determined to keep it affordable.
Of course, in either case, the product has to be killer, and Cyfe isn’t all the way there yet, but it’s very early in the game, and they’re off to a great start. They can’t and won’t stop and 25 products — the more widgets users can compile in one place, the better.
The other issue that comes to mind is management. Hootsuite, and other services like it, allow businesses to manage all of their social media accounts from a single dashboard. However, Hootsuite only does social media, and it only goes so broad with the networks one can integrate. Cyfe is going after a similar endgame, but it’s aiming to be more all-inclusive — as an analytics and performance data tool. As it goes forward, it may behoove Cyfe to add management capabilities, and Patel says this is very much on the roadmap. I could also see alerts having more than a few use cases within this framework so that business owners could get instant, realtime sentiment analysis. (Which is perhaps better than having to rely on Klout.)
Cyfe allows user to put together a dashboard that business owners and agencies can privately share with their clients to see a realtime view of progress, but there’s no multi-user access yet, though Patel says this, too, is coming soon. With a few of these upgrades, an even greater array of available widgets, Cyfe is going to be a great tool. Having to worry less about creating Excel spreadsheets and PDFs to collect and present all of your business’ performance data presents a big value proposition, and it could do for analytics and reporting what FreshBooks did for invoicing. And, hey, if they don’t have a widget, they let you create your own.
For more, check out Cyfe at home here. Let us know what you think. Did we miss something? Comment away.