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This was a meeting held in London on Thursday 4th October in the Kensington Roof Gardens. A truly inspired location by the way, 1.5 acres of established gardens 6 floors above Kensington High Street, laid out in the 1930s with trees and 6’ walls keeping out the noise one of the few truly serene places I have ever encountered in central London. Excellent catering too; diverted me from the rigours of my Dukan Diet but more of that later.
I went for a number of reasons, firstly, I wanted to engage with Zuora as a vendor and having met Brendan Walsh at a Eurocloud meeting he suggested coming to this event as a means of meeting the Zuora team and network with other attendees. Working in isolation as I so often do means I rarely have the opportunity to meet with other industry players. What I also needed was a real understanding of Zuora’s business, i.e. what they do and how it works. If I am honest, I had not really understood the proposition and will admit to having been baffled by even the name of the event “Subscribed London”. Brendan is a nothing if not a great enthusiast!
What I found was a revelation, 250+ people gathered to discuss what will be one of the very few genuinely ground-breaking that I have encountered in recent years. The reason I had not understood was simple, truly new ideas need detailed explanation and illustration to see what they actually do. My threshold of boredom is very low in presentations but Zuora caught my attention and the keynotes from Founder & CEO, Tien Tzuo, and SVP, Products, Christina Noren made me realise the power of what was on offer.
Essentially Zuora delivers a means of billing cloud services – this is the first real alternative to double entry bookkeeping in over 500 years. It addresses the accounting problems presented where a business has subscribers as customers, which is typical of cloud services, which add and remove users and options on an as needed basis. Traditionally businesses have sold “items” in “lumps” or “batches” where purchase orders are raised and the client billed accordingly. Subscription services are bought and sold on a pay per use basis meaning the accounting system cannot deal with the complexity where clients turn parts of the services on and off as needed which could be after a matter of minutes, hours, days or weeks. No purchase orders are raised for these changes, instead the subscriber initiates these actions themselves meaning the supplier has to both keep up with demand and ensure they are billing for actual use plus receiving what they are due for these services. It’s quite easy to see how “traditional” accounting and billing systems would quickly buckle under these requirements and Zuora addresses these issues directly and ensures the supplier accrues the recurring revenue stream. There are many other benefits; not least in the capacity to convey what the client pays and what they are getting which gives real benefits to marketing and sales. They also transform the financial function into a facilitator of business rather than the department that says no, which seems banal but from experience I know is not!
The demo was rather flawed if I am honest; it did not work well and satisfied neither the technical people in the room nor held the attention of the rest of us which was a shame as it did not fully articulate what was on offer. I know from personal experience this is one of the problems with live demos, the person doing it needs to be the person driving and a more interesting choice of example would have helped. I am going to show off here as I immediately saw it could be applied to any service – not necessarily in IT so it clearly will be used in a far wider context than just for the cloud.
What we did see was the results of the spend on engineering; even with my very tenuous grasp of accounting they seem to have addressed the issues presented by localisation with tax percentages, currencies and local number rounding conventions embedded. Very impressive!
Then we saw presentations from clients beginning with Justin Bowser, Managing Director, HTK Online http://www.htkhorizon.com/ who confirmed my expectations that to get anything from Zuora you need to embed the product so deep that it becomes the business; which I am sure will create culture issues within many clients. What I personally took from Justin’s presentation was the agility Zuora gave his business; they are not hidebound by procedure but can develop and distribute pricing policy within minutes which is clearly vital to businesses who, whilst having and holding strategic vision and direction, need to make decisions quickly. Again in the ever changing landscape the cloud presents this is vital to remain competitive.
We then took lunch and I got the opportunity to speak with Richard Hutton a consultant with Virtrium Ltd. http://www.virtrium.co.uk/ whose job is to deal with the cultural fall out from implementation of IT services and I would be interested to hear his views as they relate to a solution of the size and nature of Zuora. I also met Andy Biegala MD of http://www.i-femme.co.uk/ who is a potential Zuora user currently put off by the entry price of the solution which his business does not currently have the scale to support. Zuora does replace a number of large and high value systems in the user company and as I have said, needs to become the core of their business, so Zuora seem focussed on larger ticket deals leaving the entry level client without support at this point in the development of their business.
Lunch was good; too good in fact! It was the first time I had been tempted by sweets (puddings) and broke my diet with cheesecake and Eton Mess. Both were delicious and I remain only human.
I could not stay for the afternoon sessions; I would have liked to have met FireHost and seen what Pearsons and Doc Searls had to say but my schedule did not allow this.
I did manage to get some rather amateur video footage which you can see here:
What I can confirm from the day is that Zuora are game changing and are set to be a massive player in the subscription economy.