Business software is so good now, that it’s competing with consumer software

For a long time, business software was clunky. Consumer software continued to radically innovate on user experience, staying ahead of the curve.

Palm to iPhone. Styluses to capacitive touch. Taxis to Ubers. Torrents to Netflix. MP3s to Spotify, etc. We’ve lived through this story of how innovation in consumer software radically improved our lives in the last decade.

At one point, business software had no choice but to stop being clunky and terrible to use, because nobody wanted to walk into work to use shitty software. And as teams got more power to pick the software they wanted, business software had no choice but to be simple enough for anyone to try and buy.

If a business application wasn’t easy to use, people just abandoned it and start trialing something else. Apps that had the best user experience started winning more often at work than the ones that didn’t.

Everyone called this trend ‘consumerization of business software/IT’. Dropbox, Google Drive, Docs and Sheets, etc led this era. But despite all efforts by business apps to keep things simple, consumer software continued to set the gold standard in user experience. Business software just followed the direction already set by consumer software products.

However, I think the scene is changing.

Look at Slack. Zoom. Typeform. They’ve gone above and beyond what we’d have expected of business software some years ago. They’re trendsetters in providing delightful user experiences, and they come out far ahead of similar consumer products in this space.

Can you think of another mainstream video calling software that’s as good as Zoom, for consumers? I can’t. About four weeks ago, my friends and I wanted to talk over WhatsApp but the app capped video call participants at 4. The quality of WhatsApp calls isn’t that great either (remember the “Reconnecting…” flashes?).

Zoom was top of mind for me because we use it at work every day. We switched to Zoom and everything worked just fine – there were no hiccups during the call, no onboarding problems, nothing at all. Seven people discovered Zoom that day, and all of them loved their first call. 

I know several other folks who are defaulting to Zoom to stay in touch with their friends during this work-from-home season, despite WhatsApp, etc. being a tap away on their phones. That is saying a lot about how ahead of the pack Zoom is when it comes to group video/audio calling. Far ahead of consumer software in this space. 

I’m going to unpack what’s happening here:

  • Zoom, a product that we use at work, nailed the calling experience. That’s a stark contrast from how sucky business software used to be, a decade ago.
  • Zoom enjoys fantastic brand recall – people spend hours on Zoom meetings every week (if not every day) so it’s on top of our minds when we’re thinking about calling our friends or family (ahead of consumer products that live in our phones.)
  • WhatsApp, a consumer product, didn’t impress us with the one job it was supposed to do (arbitrary limits be damned). Wasn’t consumer software supposed to be the gold standard in terms of user experience?
  • Seven of us switched to Zoom instantly and many of us went back to work to convince our closest teams to start using Zoom (network effects!)

Business software like Zoom, etc. are so good that they’re winning against consumer software! If you said that to the person who had to deal with on-premise software and implementations ten or fifteen years ago, they’d certainly not believe it.

We’ve seen a lot of products go from consumer to enterprise – Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc. launched versions for work after they succeeded in the consumer space. But with us relying on work apps day in and day out and realizing that they’re so delightfully built, we are naturally taking them outside of our work lives and introducing them to our friends and family.

This is a massive opportunity that I think organizations are slowly realizing they need to chase – Microsoft, for instance, just launched personal and family subscriptions for Office 365. Lots of people already use Asana (and even Slack!) to organize their personal lives.

Even if revenue from consumers doesn’t significantly add to the bottom line for companies like Zoom etc., getting regular users to vouch about your product is definitely going to help take the brand mainstream (think about how well Skype is recognized even today, only because it was available for consumers for so long!).

That’s only going to lead to a cycle of more people discovering these products back at work – helping improve adoption for the business version.

And that’s something nobody will refuse wanting!

Published by shankarganesh

Product manager. I solve problems that matter, make mistakes along the way, and learn from those mistakes. And then a year later, I come here to share what I've learned :)

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