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Ask HN: Hacking in to the ERP market?
10 points by cookerware on Mar 19, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 3 comments
I see a lot of bloatware, and looking at the flurry of tables and endless dropdown menus, I wonder how people are able to get proficient at it.

Is there a way to do an innovative distruption in this space currently dominated by the big boys like Oracle, SAP, Sage?

Is there safety in complexity of an enterprise software, and thus higher cost? Is simplifying and making things intuitive a threat in this space?

When I see the screenshots and demos, my brain is screaming, this is just a bunch of databases hooked up together and form inputs, and I'm anxious to throw in any punch I can in here.

What I'm currently doing is talking with business owners directly, but it's a hard sell because they are opting for off-shelf solutions.

Here is the real secret: Become a domain expert.

You aren't going to disrupt SAP by building a better data organizer/dashboard. But if you truly understand the complexities of the domain processes you can build a product that has real competitive advantages that you can directly tie to actual ROI.

Secret number two: Look at smaller and more international markets.

Maybe you can't disrupt the help desk industry in the US but maybe you could in Brazil or India. The enterprise software market is starting to get more interest but in the next 20 years it will quite literally run the world. The biggest opportunities won't come from disrupting incumbents, instead they will come from empowering smaller markets to compete at a global scale.

Secret three: Become the connector not the producer.

Does Zapier want to be the next big enterprise software player? Probably. Does easypost want to eventually create APIs for every logistics process? They better be. Embrace the APIzation of everything and look for places were all that's needed is some glue and oil instead of trying to rebuild the entire machine.

Great insights. On your first point: That allows you to see blind-spots of people looking to big chunks miss. The little frustrations of the many (as opposed to maybe, the big frustrations of the few).

Which leads to the second point:

I live in a country that's way, way behind when it comes to using technology. The products are here, the infrastructure is here, but the services aren't.

It's a country where you can sell a WINDEV (:D) Windows app to a store owner to print his invoices the way he wants it and chage him $500. You'd only have to modify the logo and tweak it to sell it to others. (Most don't even have a logo).

It's a place where you could do small hotels an app for reception (check-in, check-out) for 2 grand and it would take less than two weeks.

I've read a piece by Paul Graham about finding startup ideas.. It said something like "Live in the future, build what's missing"..

Well, if you're living in the U.S leading the tech, you already are living in the future. Jump in the Time Machine and go back in time: Go somewhere else in the world. Build what's missing.

I think one of your best options to to target smaller, specific problems, and sell and 'off the shelf' (as much as possible) solution to small businesses that aren't big enough clients for the giant gorillas of the current space.

As for what type of problems, I think you need to subdivide what the large ERP systems do, and make niche products. For example, a company I worked for in college was a small manufacturer and were trying and failing to keep track of raw material inventory via Quickbooks. On one hand, the inventory needs to be quantified in a dollar amount in quickbooks, but more importantly, they need to be able to use real inventory management functions. Ideally, they would (and probably could've) bought some package just for tracking inventory in and out, but also had an ODBC connection for Quickbooks to see how much the current inventory is worth.

Warehouse Management Systems are similar. Lots of providers at varying levels of cost and complexity, but I haven't seen to many that I can jump into an app store and buy. Of course, the real complexity is that every business has wildly different needs, and even two businesses in the same space will manage processes completely differently. Mods and customization tends to be a big deal. Also, consultants are constantly fighting to be the middleman in between the software providers and the end customers.

These are just a couple reasons I think it can be tough to break into the markets that Oracle, SAP, etc are in.

Also, I think there's a good reason that there are tons of tables and menus in enterprise software. There is a ton of structured data there, so it ends up being the easiest way to show it. Simplifying features and interfaces is a tough sell, because as soon as you think you have things down to a minimum set of 'what really needs to be there', your customer will say, "oh, no. We REALLY need to be able to do x,y,z". Okay, so those make the cut, too. Then the next customer says, "We have a lot of exceptions to the standard process," and next thing you know there are a million menus and options.

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