When a User Gets It Wrong Make Sure You Get It Right

By David Knight |

When we at Silicon Allee talk to new startups, the ethos of what they do is usually self-explanatory. That’s not always the case, however, and sometimes – as with WhenAUser (WAU) – you have to delve a little deeper. And this Berlin-based startup is set to really shake up how software companies work, while making life much easier for developers around the world.

In a nutshell, WAU provides a simple rules engine which enables software as a service (SaaS) firms to decide how to react to what their users do. If, for example, a user signs up to a service but doesn’t log in again for ten days, there should be a rule deciding what action to take; for example sending a reminder email. Incorporating this rules engine into the code has been an incredible time-consuming chore and one which is many times pushed to one side – until now.

WAU may still be in private beta, but it has already attracted international recognition after being chosen as one of 12 finalists in the prestigious Demo Pod Competition at GlueCon in Colorado later this month.

SaaS is the application layer of the major trend in recent years for companies to adopt software tools for specific tasks rather than in the past when, for example, SAP was THE suite that did everything. This trend is likely to continue unabated, with SaaS adoption perhaps set to grow ten-fold globally in that layer of personal application adoption.

WhenAUser’s Kevin Dykes told Silicon Allee: “It’s probably the biggest shift in IT today, from the smallest companies – we use around 15 different SaaS tools in our little team of four – up to the largest Fortune 1000 companies which have on average between ten and 15 different tools per employee that they log into everyday.”

A Layer of SaaS Glue

The question WAU decided to tackle, then, is how to handle data and business processes as well as users across all these different tools. Having spent ten months researching which area in particular needed help, the WAU team eventually decided to create the equivalent of a layer of glue between SaaS tools, making the different processes work together more effectively.

And with this underlying technology, the first product is focused on the user portion of the problem set.

Kevin said: “A software company has users; these users are everything. How do they manage their users in other tools that they work with – their email marketing tool, their community management tools, their ticket support? How do they manage the engagement with users in various stages of the processes?”

Currently, a SaaS company’s business team will craft engagement rules, user retention rules etc: What happens when a user has gone through two steps of the five-step sign-up process but then stopped, for example.

In most cases there are already various tools to handle such user events, such as email campaign tools, but they are simply not connected. And so, in a nutshell, WhenAUser is a rules engine that a business can use to decide what happens when a user does or does not do a desired action.

Another example – when a user (that phrase again) has created an account, clicked the activation link, but has not ever logged in. Should the company send a survey to find out why? Should it send an email to encourage them to take the next step? Should it send a mobile push message if it’s a mobile application?

The potential benefits for mobile and SaaS developers of utilising the WAU rules engine are huge. Take one example given (but not named) by Kevin of a Berlin company which for a year and a half has had a so-called user engagement funnel as a process of how to deal with users: “But their developers had not yet had time to actually implement those rules into code. So what’s happening today is that developers are forced to write these business rules into the software. These are very must-have things for the business side but not core products and so they get pushed out, because developers know that once they do it one time, they will have to come back and keep doing it. Because KPIs (key performance indicators) change.”

What WAU has done, then, is to enable developers to do one-time integration while empowering the business and product managers through access to this rules engine. And the benefits are almost instant: “The value starts the moment the integration has been done by the developers… the real exciting value comes after the initial integration is done and we now have real live data coming from their software. That’s a matter of a couple of hours.”

Whilst WAU has been globally focused from the beginning, its private beta users have been companies from Berlin to allow for face-to-face feedback. But it’s about to take the next step, with the public beta set to be launched in the next few weeks – roughly at the same time as GlueCon, a conference looking at the problem set of how software tools talk to each other.

Kevin added: “Being chosen for GlueCon is a huge validation point. They are known for outputting only the most innovative companies. We were just surprised and thrilled to be chosen… We’re excited to be putting Berlin on the map with another tick for great innovation coming from here.”

Paying Attention to European Privacy

There is one huge, and perhaps key, benefit from being based in Berlin – from the beginning, WAU must ensure it meets the stringent German data privacy rules. That, in turn, can be a major selling point for companies, especially US ones, that are considering the future. Kevin said: “We must meet the needs of other German companies. As such, we’ll meet the needs of other European customers. We are then in advance of the harmonization of EU data privacy laws in the coming years, as other companies around the world have to pay attention to European data privacy.

“Because we connect companies on the outbound side of our software, we can help them send anonymized data very easily, so they can be legal to use all these tools they’ve always wanted to use.”

As for monetization, WAU will maintain a strong freemium service as a starting point, with premium service perhaps including factors like when an action can be taken and which rules are included in the engine. Have no doubt, however; the team behind this service has big plans. Kevin said: “We want to be the de facto standard for how companies, SaaS and mobile developers, manage the engagements and retention rules with their users. And we’re willing to build a business model that makes that happen.”

But they are in a race. There are a few other companies developing similar products, with some in beta but none live as yet, although WAU is seemingly the only European player. And, while it has been self-funded to date, the founders – Kevin along with Christian Weis and David Anderson – are now in a funding round.

They have plenty of self-belief. Kevin added: “We have a very clear strategy of where we are going, and it’s all based on the underlying technology that we built that is powering this, and will power more products going forward. WAU is a major opportunity, we’re going to give it its full due.”