339: How to Build Add-Ons, Extensions, or Apps
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about add-ons, extensions, and apps.
One way to launch a saas application is by creating a chrome add-on or extension that users can use as a gateway to your main product. While this is a great strategy for launching a saas application, it also has some downsides as well.
In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on the right way to launch a saas application using this strategy, the benefits of doing this and much more.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:00 About the topic of today’s episode
00:47 Why this topic was chosen.
01:59 The benefits of using this strategy.
02:23 Why you should start with the product first.
03:10 How FYI was launched using this strategy.
03:30 What Hiten and his team learn about user behavior before launching FYI.
04:20 A fallacy about building a chrome extension.
04:54 Why you need to be in your user’s workflow to be successful.
06:19 The right way to approach this strategy.
07:03 The benefit of building on someone’s platform.
3 Key Points:
- What we learned was that people are looking for these documents on their browser.
- Where is the behavior happening that you are looking to get into?
- If you’re not in their workflow in one way or another, you’re not gonna achieve any level of success.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody. This is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.
Steli Efti: And in today’s episode of the Startup Chat, we want to talk about add-ons, extensions and apps. Right? So we’re talking a lot about how to start a startup, how to do or how to build a SAS business. We’ve talked about building services and consulting businesses in the past. What we haven’t digged into a lot I want to just touch on a few of your experiences particularly on this, [inaudible] is kind of the downsized version of a full fledged SAS application, which is the typical let’s take the Chrome extension or the WordPress plugin or add-on or a Facebook app or whatever else. Just building a smaller sized applications that sits on top of somebody else’s platform, right? The do’s and the don’ts. Is this still a Bible strategy today? Why should somebody considered it, I’d love to dissect this. And you have recently launched a Chrome extension. So you have a lot of really recent experience in this. My last experience with building an add-on, or an extension, we did a Chrome extension a long time ago, when we first launched like, five, six years ago for Close.io. But we really didn’t pour a lot of thought or love into that. And it’s before that, when Facebook, the Facebook platform was a big thing. And everybody was building apps on Facebook. I build a bunch of apps on Facebook, but my experience is not as recent. So let’s jump into the first and main question which is what you know, why should you do that anyways? Like what’s the main benefit? And what’s the main downside? And then we can break it down to, how to approach this and how to win on any of these platforms or how to win when you do this and do it right.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, so I think it has a lot to do with your service and your product and how you need to be thinking about that product. And a lot of that has to do with when are people going to use your product and Where are they? What places are they in? So for me, it doesn’t start with, oh, we need to go build something or anything like that. It starts with the product you’re building, the category you’re in, and what you believe about it. So in our case, are the way we think about it is the product called FYI, it’s usefyi.com. And we did launch a Chrome extension a few months ago at the end of May. And then a couple months after that, we launched a desktop app. And so we have a Chrome extension, a desktop app, we actually also have a web version of the product. So for us, it’s a product that helps you find all your documents across all the cloud services used and now because of our desktop app, also your computer. And so you could do all that in the browser. And so we started with a Chrome extension. We didn’t even have the web easily accessible by people. Now, it is though because we wanted to make sure that when people were looking for their documents, they could find our product to be honest, and they would see it. And what we learned about behavior is that people are looking for these documents in their browser. They’re looking, they’re going to drop boxes website, or the Google Docs website or all these websites. So for us having a Chrome extension and putting it in the new tab and making it so that it’s super easy to access. And it shows up every time that you’re in your browser and opening a new tab is really valuable. And it really gets in people’s workflow, and they wanted there and so that was the insight that led us to wanting to build a Chrome extension first. I think that, you know, there is a little bit of a fallacy that if you build a Chrome extension it’s not like a full fledged product or you don’t have to do all these work on the back end. I think that really depends on whether your product is really heavy like that or not. Our part it’s pretty heavy like we do all bunch of heavy lifting and hopefully most make it feel simple on their end unless there’s a bug or something like that. And so the way I think about it is like, Where are the people? Where is the behavior happening that you are looking to get into, or get to be part of. And this is especially important on the B2B side, because if you’re not in their workflow, or in their sort of daily routine, or weekly routine, with your product in one way or another, then you’re actually not going to be able to achieve any level of growth or success, because you’re just not there. You’re not available to them when they need you. Making people just log into a website and think about your website and log into when they feel like it is not like what most people do with products like, you know, you need to be where they are. And I think that’s the way I think about it. So for us, we wanted a Chrome extension. We also needed a desktop app but here’s the thing We didn’t just need a desktop app, because we wanted people to use us on the desktop. If we have a desktop app, and people install it, we’re able to find, help them find their files from their desktop while they’re in the browser, or while they’re in our app anywhere. And so we have this idea of our product being accessible when people need it. And that’s really how you want to think about this. There are all these great platforms out there, like Chrome extension, there’s other extension stores as well. There’s obviously mobile, there’s also desktop stores. Both Windows and Mac have basically the equivalent of app stores for the desktop. There’s obviously the Chrome extension stuff so that there’s like a ton of things in places and as I keep talking, I can think of more right? Facebook ads aren’t that big of a deal anymore, but like you could say that like, that’s another venue if you have a type of product and maybe a consumer product or something like that, where you want to be their workflow and people are logging to Facebook all the time. Text Messages also another platform.
Steli Efti: Yeah Messenger. The thing that I love that I want to highlight is your whole point of like, you know, it’s not about an add-on, or an extension or something like that. That’s another way you start, I want to build an extension, that’s not a good place to start. But how do I want to serve? What solving problem do I want to help them? Do I want to solve for these users or these customers and people. And where are they? Where would be the most valuable place, the most natural place for our app or product to appear to help them accomplish what they want, versus always assuming that they will be willing to come to a separate website, sign up to a separate web app, or SAS app and then solve the problem there. I love that because, you know, there was a long time and I think still to the state of some degree, there was this idea that if we built on top of somebody else’s platform, the main benefit is going to be that we’re going to get built in distribution, right? The idea was we’ll launch on this thing and we’re going to get all their users. All their customers auto magically, right? Where a Chrome extension, there’s a page that shows people all these Chrome extensions. So people will just start adding our extension. And we don’t have to do that much marketing. Facebook was a crazy example of that. But Shopify, their extension or add-on store, whatever it’s called, is a big example of that, that I hear eCommerce startups all the time, say, we’re going to launch this thing on Shopify, because they have massive distribution and being on their store is going to make us really, really popular. I mean, the app store with iOS and all that, right. And Google’s it, App Store. So I think, a big appeal in the early days. And still, I think today for a lot of founders to even consider that is to think both. This is going to be simple and cheap. And it’s going to automatically give me a lot of users. Now, let me ask you, Chrome extension might not be as big of that distribution play for people I’m not sure what the assumptions are from users. But how do you think about the distribution part of doing add-ons, extensions, apps. Is that still a big opportunity or does it depend. What do you think about that?
Hiten Shah: It depends and all this stuff takes work. So I would say that the thing that’s changed is like, most of the platforms are a little more mature. There’s already like so many apps on them. And people have a hard time finding what they need. So when you think about it, like that, this app stuff is not like, whether it’s an app marketplace of any kind, Chrome extensions or desktop apps or whatever, it’s not a … It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not like what it used to be where it was a little bit easier because it’s less crowded and people are really excited as consumers to download these things. It’s just not like that. That’s not reality. Reality is more like … It’s like you have a website you need to market, so you have a Chrome extension you need to market it, you have a desktop app, you need to market it. So I think you have to make sure you’re getting that stuff out there. And it’s not, it’s not like you get distribution right off the bat. Also, like most of these, most of these services, or app stores and marketplaces, they don’t have a system of getting your distribution. Unless you pay, they don’t have notifications. They don’t have all that kind of stuff. So what they do have is like, featuring you. That it’s about having a really great experience, great product, something that should be featured, right? Then it also has to do with your relationship with the people that run those stores and things like that. So this is the reality of it. We’re back to like a relationship game. If nothing else, if you really want to be reliant on the App Store for distribution directly, otherwise, you’re doing all the work.
Steli Efti: What about the risk, right? I remember back in the day, there were companies that thought about just being a player on top of a pre-existing platform and there was always [invest] from an investor’s perspective, the question of risk, what if that platform changes something about the algorithm? What if the App Store is not as popular anymore? Like you’re on this platform or even simpler, I am using or I used to use a bunch of popular Gmail extensions that, anytime Google would change something it would mess with their design. It would mess with the app or at some point Google, it changed something significantly. I remember talking to a startup that I was using their app in Gmail natively. And they would tell me how all of some other thing was broke. And they told me how Google doesn’t like what they do anymore, because they want to do this natively. So they’re like, basically killed what they were doing. So …
Hiten Shah: That’s the rule of platforms, right? You’re beholden to them, period, like whatever they want to do, they can do and so you just have to be smart about making sure you’re either on multiple platforms, but over time, you’re reducing your reliance on any single platform.
Steli Efti: So I think the long term, especially the way that you approach this, building an add-on, an extension and app might be the right thing to serve your user, your customer in the best way possible. Might be the right way to launch and enter the market. But it’s probably in most cases today with today’s knowledge there’s very rare examples. I can’t think of a company that will rely just on being an app and add-on or an extension and never want to expand to multiple platforms. Or have also a standalone or a desktop or some kind of another version that people can go and use. That whole strategy that used to exist doesn’t exist anymore, right?
Hiten Shah: Nope, does not exist. Can’t rely on that.
Steli Efti: To wrap up this episode was there anything unexpected, new or interesting that you learned launching a Chrome extension versus launching a standalone app or was it the exact same experience there’s nothing really was different in any way imaginable from you doing so?
Hiten Shah: I think it’s really important to focus on your listing and that marketing page that they give you and all the components of it. Like, I think that’s probably the most critical thing about these marketplaces which is, if people happen to find you there, or you need to send people there to download your product, there’s a ton of value that you can get. If you really think through the experience almost like it’s your own website on those listing pages. Because you’re you’re looking to convince people to sign up or install or whatever it is your extension or your app or whatever from that page. And I don’t see enough companies spending time on those pages and thinking through what is the experience like and how how do we convince people to sign up.
Steli Efti: Beautiful all right that’s it for us for this episode. By the way, this podcast is on a pretty big platform with iTunes. So if you listen to the podcast, if you enjoy it, please just a favor go to the iTunes store and give us a four star or five star rating. Whatever the max is give us a little review. That would be highly appreciated and other than that until next time.
Hiten Shah: Later.