“Bitrix24″ is a new SaaS product based on the Company’s on-premise product – Bitrix Intranet – and features flexible collaboration modules, highly simplified deployment procedures, and advanced security mechanisms.
Below is the full interview that we have conducted with Mr. ‘Valyanov’ regarding his web-based company “Bitrix24″;
1. What is it exactly that you do and what “Bitrix24″ is all about?
Bitrix24 is a comprehensive business collaboration platform. It contains robustly constructed tools like a CRM, calendars, file sharing, tasks, and project groups that are enhanced and unified by an intuitive social-style interface. These social features make communications concerning all company operations easier and more transparent, with the added benefit that company knowledge is always searchable. It is the aspiration of Bitrix24 to present a practical solution for management of the entire company.
2. When has “Bitrix24″ been founded? And what stage is “Bitrix24″ currently at?
Bitrix24 began in 2011, having jumped from the shoulders of Bitrix, Inc. The product itself came out in public beta in May 2012. Bitrix24 is in validation stage, although judging by the number of users, there seems to be little doubt that it can find a niche. Financing has thus far been completely internal.
3. What is “Bitrix24″‘s business model and how does it work?
Bitrix24 is a cloud service with a typical freemium pricing model. However, unlike rival services, the paid versions have no limit on the number of users, but pricing is very reasonable and oriented on the amount of space used. More formal business tools, such as reporting and time management, are available in the top plan.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
The founders represent a majority of a small Russian bank’s former IT staff. Forging out on their own, they found success in developing an online software vending service and content management solutions. Sergei Rizhikov is the CEO and business strategist; Dmitry Valyanov is President and product development tsar; Yury Tushinsky is CTO, and Vadim Dubravanu is Head of Development.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
First of all, Bitrix24 is focused on small business. Other products which offer a unified social collaboration platform have a strong leaning to enterprise level clients. It is worth noting that there are few very many products which offer the set of tools present in Bitrix24, or even a reasonable likeness. Secondly, Bitrix24 has a pricing model that is ahead of its time, since we only charge for space used and some additional features, not users. Objectively, it is hard to explain why 10 cloud users incur more cost to the service provider than 9; Bitrix24 does not look for artificial answers to this question.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has “Bitrix24″ achieved so far?
We have seen noticeable growth in the monthly bill from our cloud provider. The beta launch was in May of this year (2012). Since then, we have been successful in acquiring users on the free plan, which now hovers around 8000 active accounts. Paid accounts are not our focus at this time, but even so we have a few dozen. Our milestones tend to be few and large, as we simultaneously launched 3 languages with websites and service. Next up is the mobile version and desktop app.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is “Bitrix24″‘s competitive advantage over them?
Many clients have come looking for an alternative to BaseCamp or other project management solutions. Bitrix24 does much more than that. Podio has good breadth of coverage that compares to ours, but they are more enterprise oriented. TeamLab, Central Desktop, and perhaps HyperOffice. It’s probably closer to the truth to say that our clients are looking to get their first truly company-wide cloud services, Skype and Dropbox notwithstanding.
Bitrix24’s advantages are the level of integration of our various tools, the speed at which we are able to add and develop the product, and an already large client base which provides extensive feedback.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
The trade-offs of functionality and simplicity are often wrenching decisions. There were too many of those to count, but you make your best decision, go forward, and sometimes re-do it.
There were numerous technical issues in launching a service with the type of availability we need, even using a top-flight cloud provider. Our development team did a great job with that. Coordinating the launch of the product in three different languages was another issue that required us to raise our game in project coordination.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
The phrase ‘social intranet’ is still jargon, not a household term. It is also difficult to present such a multifaceted service succinctly. There is suspicion that a platform with such a large number of tools means that the tools themselves are not too sharp. This is not only not the case, but the advantages of native integration across all function zones enhances each tool.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
Our development team is a notable strength, but the cloud does not live by code alone. There are nearly limitless ‘entry points’ for Bitrix24 – a company looking for 2 or 3 of the following: files sharing; uniting of distant team members; IM; company activity stream; CRM; comprehensive search; tasking; rich user profiles; or discussion threads, will find Bitrix24 to be a very attractive solution. The additional benefits make it sticky.
11. If “Bitrix24″ succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Bitrix24 is extremely ambitious in itself, without looking beyond the present goals. We want to create a service that, for all practical purposes, allows an entire business to be managed in the cloud.
Our product is already a general solution for small businesses; it is not specialized for a particular vertical. There is no reason that it would not fit the needs of some large enterprises, and already we some current takers that fit this description.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build “Bitrix24″ based on?
We had acquired the content management know-how and the cloud technology needed to put this product together from our other activities. Bitrix24 is the culmination of much, though not all, of what we have learned to this point.
Furthermore, it was clear that small businesses can benefit from the collaboration solutions which had for quite a while been thought of as enterprise-only tools. The cloud was the obvious answer to the problem of how to deliver these benefits in a sustainable manner.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
It is easy to get ahead of yourself. Going into the cloud does simplify many things that you expected it to, but there are plenty of things which it does not simplify.
One thing we’ve seen is that surviving a setback with poise boosts morale more than gaining an easy victory. The baptism by fire that comes with the startup experience builds skills among team members that they never knew they had or could have.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Oh, probably hiding from all the inquisitive and acquisitive investors. One real problem will be the simple battle for oxygen in a very crowded marketplace. The pressures from larger numbers of clients, both paying and free, will be greater, since now we have a relatively small number of clients.
Generally, we think that the problems which we will have then will be different in quantity but not in quality from the ones we have now.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
The arguments for the individual tools contained in Bitrix24 are self-evident. Countless companies search for these solutions every day. The customer’s unique benefit from Bitrix24 is management of a whole company from a single platform. This means no lost knowledge, no mixing of business and personal files, instant messages, or discussions, and a single search box for everything. Further, onboarding employees are only required to acclimate to a single interface.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Incoming customers are looking for one or more of the specific business tools that we offer. Some resources, contacts, and existing partners, especially in Russia, from previous activities have been enlisted, but Bitrix24 has mostly spread via its own efforts and media exposure. Exposure is one of the major issues going forward, although we will be attending exhibitions in the coming year.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Thus far, we have hit our target in that most of our users are from small businesses. There are also a number of instances which are being used as collaboration space for projects which may become small companies or which are non-commercial in nature.
We see our ideal customer as a small company that can get significant organizational boost when starting up or when making a first move to the cloud and growing with us to the point where they can switch to a paid plan and invite clients into the extranet and collaborate not just internally, but also with clients.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Small businesses are looking for the type of cloud services which we offer: file sharing, discussions, CRM are all very frequent searches on major search engines. This is a major source of new users. It takes about a minute to set up a free account.
The product can be useful for literally any company or working collective. That’s a blessing since there are countless outlets and websites that have potential customers for us, but it also means that a large amount of testing must be done on various platforms.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
We have gotten excellent feedback, both positive and constructively critical, which we very much appreciate. Very little inspires confidence in the direction that we are going more than having customers taking their time to converse with us about how they are implementing the product and what their needs are. One thing that doesn’t feel good, but is inevitable, is that users often ask about features which we have considered ourselves but which we had to refuse, usually for the sake of simplicity. However, it is probably true that for every inquiry like that, there are 2 or 3 which were averted by doing things the way we did.
20. How are you going to scale?
We actually solved the technical side of scalability long ago. The ‘limiting’ factors concerning scaling up will be what the market ultimately decides about our product and what ratio of paying-to-free customers is sustainable. We have already started reaching into specific verticals in marketing, and hope that we will establish a base in specific segments to leverage the popularity of the free version.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
The mobile version, but there is certainly more pressure internally to get it done than from outside. We will have it out in September with most tools being available and have the CRM in it by year end. There are some things for the CRM, like better invoicing, which are also in demand as well. For the most part, the major demands that are being made already exist, and need to be fully tested before being put in.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We develop in Russia and are a US company. We also have a well-developed German department and have gotten some very favorable press coverage there. Russia is the place with the most users now, and of course most of our very earliest users were there, but the non-Russia market shows signs that it will overtake Russia. Russian, English and German are already available, but here are already people working on other languages.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We don’t see a practical limit to growth – I suppose that is true of all companies offering a cloud-based service. We will certainly need to invest more in marketing to achieve what we are envision as our rightful market share.
Our pricing model, which is not based on the number of users, is innovative in our niche. It also gives us flexibility that we intend to use to maximize appeal.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We are constantly bringing in more developers, but working for us entails moving to our city, as our principle is to develop everything we offer in-house. There is also potential for working with us in other languages, but that is something that we are not focusing on at this time. Since our product does support ‘migration’ from the cloud to onsite hosting, we are interested in companies who work with clients through the full cycle of cloud-based adoption through to in-house migration and further customization. We’re available at firstname.lastname@example.org
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are not looking for this yet, but it is likely that we will be in 2013. We have been self-funded up to now. We are encouraged by our beta results so far, but obtaining the scale needed to be remain competitive long term will almost certainly require financial backing. In our area, development will always remain a very large expenditure, so staying small is not really an option.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Open up a free instance of Bitrix24 and get yourself organized right now! Fill up the CRM with your contacts. Also, concerning contacts that you know you want to pitch to at some point, determine the milestone which must be achieved before you contact them, that puts more incentive in the milestone itself, or it did for us.