Software can make the lives of business owners much easier, but assuring that disparate pieces of software can communicate properly with one another is often a difficult challenge for B2B software companies. In this edition of the UpTech Report, we meet with Michael Zuercher, the CEO of Prismatic, to find out more about integration platforms and how they can help.
We’ll learn about Zuercher’s history growing his embedded iPaaS company and how the market is currently evolving.
Plus, what was the integration process like in the past for businesses that wanted to share and combine data between software? Should software companies use a cloud-based integration platform or iPaaS to provide product integrations versus letting in-house developers create their own integrations from scratch? And what are the best integration platforms available for customer-facing teams who want to create custom integrations? In this exciting episode, the host of the podcast Alexander Ferguson dives into it all.
Michael Zuercher is CEO and cofounder at Prismatic, the integration platform for B2B software companies. Prismatic is the quickest way to build integrations to the other apps your customers use and to add a native integration marketplace to your product. A complete embedded iPaaS solution that empowers your whole organization, Prismatic encompasses an intuitive integration designer, embedded integration marketplace, integration deployment and support, and a purpose-built cloud infrastructure.show more
Michael is a veteran of the B2B software industry. Prior to Prismatic, he was founder and CEO of Zuercher Technologies. He founded Zuercher in 2003 and scaled it from a bootstrapped tech startup into a national industry disruptor in the public safety software market. To accelerate growth, he led the 2015 sale of Zuercher to a private equity-backed company and played a key role in the sale of the joint company to Bain Capital in 2018.
While leading Zuercher Technologies, whose software had hundreds of third-party integrations serving thousands of customers, Michael experienced firsthand how important and how difficult integrations can be in B2B software. He passionately believes that B2B software companies need a better way to build and deploy integrations. Founded on this vision, Prismatic provides software teams exactly that.show less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Michael Zuercher 00:00
How can B2B software companies leverage platforms and leverage existing tools to not reinvent the wheel, they’re to not get distracted from core product, but to still serve their customers with integrations well.
Alexander Ferguson 00:18
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series. UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at teraleap.io. Today, I’m excited to be joined by my guest, Michael Zuercher, who’s based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and he’s the CEO and co founder at Prismatic. Welcome, Michael, good to have you on.
Michael Zuercher 00:37
Thanks for having me.
Alexander Ferguson 00:39
Now, Prismatic is an integration platform for b2b software companies. How we understand like, what was the problem that you saw in the marketplace and that have set out to solve?
Michael Zuercher 00:51
Sure, you know, I think prismatic is a pretty classic case of kind of scratching our own itch as co founders in a way I, you know, I previously had a startup, you know, ran that business for about 15 years or so. And, and we were in a in the public safety, vertical market. So we serve law enforcement organizations and, and dispatch centers and things. And in that market, we had about 600 integrations that we built to third party vendors in the ecosystem that makes up law enforcement dispatch. And, you know, by the time we had a couple 1000 customers, that’s obviously a significant burden, I guess, I will say, and so, you know, what we experienced over the current course of our previous journey was, you know, r&d resources were eaten up increasingly by these integrations, implementations were slowed down, it was a big support burden. You know, and, you know, many of you in the SAS space can kind of probably connect the dots from there around all the challenges that come with, with dragging something like that, I guess, along in your product. And so, you know, truthfully, I never felt like, we kind of solved that problem to our satisfaction in my last business, and so upon, you know, selling that company, nextinit, we were still really stuck on this. Okay, so what about these vertical markets, public safety being the one I happen to have experience with? Where integration is a really key part of succeeding for your customers? And and how can how can b2b software companies or in our case, B to G, I guess, how can b2b software companies leverage platforms and leverage existing tools to not reinvent the wheel there to not to get distracted from core product, but to still serve their customers with integrations? Well, and, you know, we’ve kind of tried to solve that problem every which way, you know, over the course of my previous life, so to speak. And this time started out and said, okay, so So what would happen if you built an integration platform, whose sole purpose in life was to serve b2b software companies kind of in that endeavor that I described, and what we’ve learned since and what we’ve kind of learned along the way with our with customers, and, and just kind of working with the market is that public safety isn’t unique, you know, I mean, many, many, many vertical markets have this long tail of integrations that b2b software companies are saddled with.
Alexander Ferguson 03:02
You know, you knew the problem intimately. Marks Yeah, your scars, I know this, and in your so now focus on b2b software companies, because you’re like I was that there’s got to be others. And there’s an explosion of SaaS solution software companies, we’re experiencing the same problem, you’re you’re just saying, uh, let me solve this issue that you have is a data integration, I mean, this this concept of, of combining multiple information from various sources, let’s just look at it just for a second, for those of our viewers who aren’t familiar with the concept of you get to describe it to like a five year old, I have a five year old. So if you were to tell my son like, this is what we do, what would you say?
Michael Zuercher 03:44
I would say that I have a six year old, so I’m going to translate the six year old since that’s, I guess, what’s on my mind, but um, you know, if what I would say is there, every business in the world at this point uses software as a key part of what they do, either tracking what they do, or enabling what they do, or sometimes serving their customers directly with what they do. And, and because software is so core to what businesses do now. And because businesses have more and more software all the time, that software all has to get along. And that software all has to communicate well. And and that’s a challenge, because different people make each of those pieces of software. And so integrations are how that software gets along, essentially,
Alexander Ferguson 04:26
making sure that they talk to each other talk nicely.
Michael Zuercher 04:29
That’s right talk and pass the right data I guess.
Alexander Ferguson 04:33
It’s like all the software has to go to kindergarten learn how to play well together. This, this evolutionary tools have to be able to integrate the explosion of software tools means there’s just gonna be only more and more and more so the need for it is so important, but you only focusing on on b2b integrations. Is that just because that’s where you came from? And you’re like, let me just hone in on that. Is it that much of a difference between B To be integrations for versus b2c separate integrations?
Michael Zuercher 05:03
I mean, that’s a super good question. I’m sure some of it is a is a bias to the problem that I innately understand. Right. And there’s no question that that’s the case. But I think I think Additionally, I think, you know, b2b software tends to have a set of requirements. Around I think, a higher level of service from an integration perspective, or at least a broader level of service than b2c does. Generally, in b2b software, at least in my experience, you know, whoever’s producing that SAS or whoever’s producing that software will, will build the integrations that are necessary as kind of a core part of the product, I think b2b is a little bit unique in that it would be compared to B to C, in that you tend to have solutions that do whatever they do in whatever niche of whatever vertical market they’re in, where integrations become part of how you fit into the ecosystem, in a different way them in integration that is like, what the software does innately. So for example, in b2b, or I’m sorry, in in b2c, you know, if you are a, if what you do is provide, you know, social network, a social network app, clearly integrating to whatever is part of that is just a core part of the the application. Whereas in b2b, if you’re a field service app, that you know, that works in lots of different businesses, it might have to hook up, you know, connect to 25, different back end ERP systems. And so you kind of end up with this thing where like, you could build all of that natively, you could build all that as part of the product, but it gets unwieldy really fast. And I think you have a bit of a different dynamic, just because of the way those markets work.
Alexander Ferguson 06:35
So it’s the cons of ASIC core to your to your technology, often b2c It will be so then just have your own developers build the integrations and make it embedded versus b2b, you just need to have your integration marketplace that this person may use one or someone else may use something different. Now, almost all everything is cloud based. Right? Everything now is.
Michael Zuercher 06:57
I mean, applications are I think, if you get into most vertical markets in b2b software, you will find, you will find plenty of non cloud based software in the world still, you know, there are so mainframes running business critical systems in the world, right. And so, you know, I think you’re absolutely right that startups are all building SAS, modern purchases of big b2b software are almost exclusively SAS. But it we’ve got, we’ve got at least a decade, until, you know, the premise based systems are mostly gone, and probably longer than that on the long tail.
Alexander Ferguson 07:29
Not everyone lives and breathes data integration tools and love this concept, but I am kind of curious, a little bit like, Do you know the history? Like if you go backwards, I mean, just software sharing from one software to another piece of software? What What’s this journey been? Like an evolution of it?
Michael Zuercher 07:48
Yeah, so I will give what is undoubtedly a very imperfect recounting of history, but it’s a it’s what I know, I guess. So. I mean, you know, obviously, as computers and you know, mainframes and, and then, you know, many computers and on down the line became so prevalent in business software became increasingly a part of the general business operation. And this happened all the way back to the, you know, the 60s 70s, probably, in some cases before and, and as systems proliferated, as you had more and more of them, they needed to start exchanging data. And I think in the, you know, in the simplest context, it’s just basic data, like, you know, we need we need our customer database to be accessible in both our both our CRM and our billing system, or whatever, right? I mean, so you can see all kind of started in a really natural way. Well, very quickly, I think, you know, businesses decided, well, I don’t want to have somebody typed this into two systems and be need to exchange this data. And it started super innocently, right, like, we’re just gonna, oh, we’re gonna do is just when Michael zerker signs up for our thing, you know, our phone business or whatever, we’re gonna, we’re gonna put it in two systems, this is great. And integrations were born. And so, you know, that tended to happen in the enterprise part of the market in the very large companies. And you can see why there was the most to be gained by automating these processes in large businesses, because there was the most volume in large businesses. And so going a long way back, you had businesses building integrations between at the time mainframe systems, and then you don’t kind of all along the, the, you know, the development, I guess, of technology along the way, all the way to SAS, you had large enterprises driving, kind of the integration set of requirements and the integration expectations. And that was kind of solved in two ways, either, you know, let’s talk about kind of the 90s and into the 2000s. If you’re a big business, and you buy a new ERP, and you need a whole bunch of integrations to it, you kind of have two choices. You either get some kind of integration platform and build on that, or you hire Accenture or somebody like that and have them build a multimillion dollar custom set of integrations and both are probably completely reasonable expectations. I’ve never been in a fortune 500 Business I have no idea what the what the right answer is. But that is the way the integration market grew up from my perspective. And so you have all these solutions that have existed for a long time. You know, you can go way back, you know, but But you have solutions like Informatica and Bumi, and a little bit more recently mule soft and and you have these tools that grew up to do exactly what I just described, if I’m a big business, and I have a whole bunch of tools internally, how do I connect them all together? And then we had this revolution a while ago where, you know, tools like Zapier started existing and the and the plethora of things that are like Zapier, and they, they essentially said, Well, it’s I mean, it’s great that, that these big enterprises have all these ways to build things for multi millions of dollars with giant staff. But But what about the, you know, what I was kind of referred to is like the the citizen integrator or the professional where like, I’m maybe not a software developer, but I know how to, I know enough about things to to wire up my MailChimp account to my you know, Salesforce CRM or whatever, right and so, so Zapier and friends went and built really good ways to do a lot of that, what you’re basically still doing the same thing, you’re still integrating, you’re in much smaller businesses, sometimes businesses have one. But you’re but you’re integrating tools that are used by that business, essentially, inside their own operation, time together, largely my CRM, to my ERP, my ERP to my financial system, whatever. What has happened more recently, and what prismatic is part of is the endeavor to say, rather than focusing on either a very large business, or a very small business, integrating their own things, which is what I think most of the history of integration platforms is, well, increasingly, the expectation is on b2b software companies, for all of that to exist out of the box, you buy a new financial software today, you just expect that it has integrations to concur and Expensify. And whoever else, right out of the box, you just expect that you can go to an integration marketplace, click go and it’s going to be connected. You don’t want to buy Zapier and connect them together, you don’t want to buy anything and connect them together, you want to just work. And so as that expectation has been pushed on to b2b software companies, they’re in my, in my belief is that there’s a big gap of any integration platform space for platforms that are specifically focused on kind of the the specific things that a b2b software company needs, that are different than an enterprise needing to integrate their own things, you know, how do I integrate my product to my customers ecosystem? Rather than how do I as an organization integrate my own things? And it turns out, those are pretty different problems in some ways. And I think I believe this is one of the next kind of iterations of the integration space more broadly.
Alexander Ferguson 12:41
It’s almost like it’s table stakes, as a b2b software company, that you have to have integrations. And it’s a lot of effort and time. So it’s, it’s amazing for me to just realize, you know, the explosion of software companies now that there is even a space for someone to just manage the facilitation of information between all the software companies as as in in this additional whole concept. So when I look at your website, we just talked about the product itself for a second. What basically, someone a b2b software company can say, alright, you just manage it, we’ll hook into you, and then you’ll take care of all the integrations and we just embed that into our solution.
Michael Zuercher 13:20
So you know, there are kind of a handful of ways to think about it. But But I think it’s, I think it’s almost best to think about for to start the conversation with, what are we trying to accomplish in the end. And in the end, what we what most of our customers want, is they want a really simple marketplace like page in their app, where their customer can go and say I want to turn on QuickBooks, and I want to turn on Slack. And I want to turn on NetSuite, or what you know, whatever the examples are, click, click, click type in username, password, off we go, okay. And so that that’s where we’re trying to get. Now if you look at everything it takes to get there, you get into a ton of detail. I mean, first of all, you need to have the basic workflow for what we’re orchestrating, when an invoice gets made here, then do this thing in some other system, you know, when a payment comes in, then do this. And at the same time, message slack, right. And those can be very simple or very complex. But you also need that workflow to be able to connect to all of these systems out there, to NetSuite to QuickBooks. And some of these systems, the ones I’ve mentioned, certainly are these big SAS platforms that are very common. And so a platform like prismatic is already connected to them and already has, you know, what we call components that, that let you make those connections. But what happens in many vertical markets is in addition to that, well, you’re also connecting to 14 tools that nobody in the world has ever heard of, unless they happen to be in your industry, right. So in my previous life, I mentioned I was in public safety, we connected to probably 15 different brands of 911 phone systems. I think you’ve probably never heard a single one of those brands in your life like and it doesn’t matter. But but that’s Very much a thing, not just in the public safety vertical market, but in almost every vertical. I’ve actually been surprised in the last three years that I’ve been doing this with prismatic, how many? How many things, I guess I’ve learned about how deep verticals that you wouldn’t kind of imagine, really are. And so anyway, as you think about what prismatic needs to do, we need to provide that platform page or that that marketplace page to turn on the integrations, then we have to give you a way to build the workflows that connect all the systems and has have all the logic, data mappings, if then type stuff, whatever. But then if you kind of go back one level more, well, there has to be a platform, this thing runs on. And it has to scale from, you know, you have to be able to deal with the fact that at midnight, your your customers might spike with a whole bunch of batch jobs overnight. And it has to it has to just it has to just work. You know, you need to deal with the security ramifications of integrations you need to deal with the how do you log in? How do you detect problems, because one of the challenges with integrations in a b2b software company is that very often, when you get a support issue, or somebody’s upset that it’s not working, it actually has has to do with the third party that you’re connected to, and not with you. And that’s especially true in vertical markets. And so how do we provide a platform that lets a b2b software company quickly identify where the problem is, so that it’s entirely possible, they just need to go back to their customer and say, hey, you need to call Acme Inc. Because their API has been returning for a once for the last, you know, however long. And so I think you end up with this really kind of broad platform, some of which is really customer facing, and some of which is like the least sexy stuff in the world, but is but is exactly what makes this work in reality. And I think in a platform, you know, prismatic for sure, I think one of the interesting things about it is that probably the things that are the, like the most innovative, are also the the least sexy in a lot of ways, you know, they’re the things you don’t see. And, you know, one interesting thing about our customers is that almost by definition, if they want to, they can build this themselves. 100% of our customers are software companies, by definition, they can build software, I mean, they could do what we do, the kicker is, it just so rarely makes sense for that to suddenly become your core competency. And so what we’re trying to do is like, take all the stuff, that’s, that’s not sexy, take all the stuff that isn’t going to be a differentiator for your customer. Put that on us. And then the time that you spend on integrations, as a customer of ours as a b2b software company, should be the stuff that actually differentiates your product in your market. And that probably isn’t logging, and it probably isn’t scalability, and it probably isn’t yet another way to do Oh off to in a nice way, right? Like, what it probably is, is something that I will never understand because it’s deep in your vertical market. And, and and you know, and knows, you and your customer are the ones that know that. So that’s really what we do is we take that stuff on from a platform perspective,
Alexander Ferguson 17:58
this, this integration platform as a service, I pass, you fit into this this category, but specifically b2b software, it’s just like that that exact category. What what do you see is the complexity and time factor for them to use your product and start getting into it? You say, once it’s running, it’s simple. But I mean, what’s that process look like?
Michael Zuercher 18:23
Yeah, so we actually view ourselves as embedded IPs, certainly, we’re part of the IPS, you know, segment. But but we we believe that there’s a a new segment of that market emerging called embedded IPs, which is, you know, taking iPads and embedded in a b2b software, you know, SAS offering. And so, you know, when you ask what it takes to get running with it, it depends on of course, on what exactly you’re doing as a company, but most of our customers will kind of do two things. First, they will build some of their integrations, they’ll build the first integrations, the most important integrations to them in the platform. And that can be very easy or very complicated, depending on what those integrations are. If what you want to do is make a you know, message in Slack every time a new lead comes into Salesforce, well, yeah, that’s going to be pretty easy, right? Drag and drop a couple things. And we’re good. If what you want to do is put a.on the map in the right way, when a 911 phone call comes in over a tooth like Rs 232 serial line, which is a real thing in the world today. That’s going to be more complicated, right? And so I think it’s a hard question to answer but just from just from like, start building integrations, it’s a very fast process. The second phase is embedding it in your product. And again, depending on exactly how deeply you want to do it, that can be more or less complicated, but we’ve done everything we possibly can to make that a really simple process, so that you can essentially take our platform, embed the customer facing parts in your product and not have to build that stuff yourself.
Alexander Ferguson 19:48
Is it is it meant for non tech savvy people? Is it still meant for the developers inside the b2b software company use it?
Michael Zuercher 19:54
Yeah, that’s a super good question. So we believe that the people building the workflows should be ideally at scale business analysts are what I was kind of called, like technical non developers, they’re technical people, but they’re probably not writing code. That said, there are some parts of of taking a platform like this and really weaving it into your market and weaving it into your product that are probably best done by developers. So for example, actually embedding the you UX pieces from our tool in your tool, take a few lines of code, and some developers probably going to do that, you know, possibly building some of the more complex connections to the niche parties that you integrate with in your market, like I mentioned, 15, different 911 phone systems, or whatever a developer may be involved in, in some of that orchestration, like the lowest level. But once that’s done, then the developer can step back. And the business logic and the workflow and the deployment and the management can happen without DevOps without development. And so what we see is we don’t believe that cutting developers completely out is the right answer. I mean, these are software companies they have their customers have high expectations about the experience, and sometimes developers are just gonna be the best to shape that. But we believe developers should use the time they’re going to spend on integrations at something that provides a lot of leverage, so that the rest of the organization is essentially empowered by what the developer did, to build a whole bunch on top of it. And I think our platform is really specifically designed to be something that developers really like to use, because the pieces that they need to do are, are clear, and are built into developer friendly way. And what those do is enable the rest of the organization to do all the things the 90% of the things that the developer no longer has to be involved in.
Alexander Ferguson 21:37
Would you categorize this as a developer tool? Yeah,
Michael Zuercher 21:41
certainly, I think, you know, you can probably divide our product into kind of different segments. And certainly a couple pieces of it are purely focused on developers, built in a way that developers love is the phrase we use all the time, you know, how do you make this a thing that developers aren’t going to dislike? You know, that said, the actual low code builder, the actual like point and click deployment stuff, that’s probably not used by a developer. And so I think, I think in some ways, the tool is a little bit segmented between the pieces the developers need to do, and the piece that those kind of like technical non developer, integration specialists, business analysts, whatever you call them in your business, that they’re going to do
Alexander Ferguson 22:18
it for you. When you when you look at at this what what year did you start?
Michael Zuercher 22:24
We started two and a half years ago. So I suppose it would have been early 2019 2019. Okay,
Alexander Ferguson 22:29
to two years in the adoption, what’s it been like when you start to share this around? Are people like, oh, yeah, they get it immediately? Or do you think developers still want to keep it in house?
Michael Zuercher 22:39
I mean, I think there’s always a predilection to keep things in house as a developer. You know, I came up as a developer myself, and certainly understand that predilection, I think it’s terrifying to have something as mission critical as integrations are outside of your control as a developer. And and I think one of the things that prismatic has worked super hard to get right, kind of since day one, is, is that experience, you know, how do you make this something that that doesn’t leave developers feeling like they’re going to end up cornered, because it’s so common that, you know, this tool looks great in demos, it looks great, and blogs, and then you, you know, you get you get 95% of the way and you hit a brick wall, and there’s no way around it? Right? Like, we want to do everything we can let developers wherever it makes sense, get under the hood, extend it, make sure they don’t get cornered. And then and then let the rest of the organization build a lot on top of that. So you know, certainly, there’s always going to be a big conversation in an organization around does it make sense to have this be a dependency on a platform like prismatic? Or is it something we should build ourselves? I think increasingly, companies are, are very wise about investing in core product. And they’re very wise about offloading the things that aren’t core. And I think I think integration platform stuff is not core, I would argue that integrations are generally they’re generally pretty important. But the platform on which they run probably isn’t. And so, you know, I think over time, even in the couple years that we’ve been doing this, I think that conversation has gotten just kind of easier in a in a macro way. I think that the market is just moving that way, not just with integrations, but kind of with everything. But from an adoption perspective. Of course, we spent the first, you know, year building, building a product from nothing, which means, you know, although we certainly had some kind of early customers that were really active and helped us a lot. I mean, it’s not like on day one, you can go live with a giant integration platform. That’s mission critical, right. And so, you know, we spent that first year about about a year kind of building, you know, in stealth and got to the point that, you know, we had a couple of customers that were able to shape it and work with us. And it would have been just over a year ago that we kind of took our first enterprise customers live in, you know, what I would consider like a true production mission critical version one. And so since then, we’ve been much more broadly marketing it you know, we’ve kind of been in general availability for a little more than a year. Now, and adoption obviously picks up at the point that you start, you know, generally marketing it and working with additional customers. So, it’s been a really exciting year in 2021. As we’ve kind of taken the, like, year and a half work, year and a half of work, we didn’t sell and suddenly said, like, turns out we exist. You know, and, you know, getting into the market.
Alexander Ferguson 25:20
As you stated earlier, this is your second company, the first company started you were you were 19. I was. Yeah, I love it, like, just easy for you to start new one.
Michael Zuercher 25:32
I mean, I It’s never easy. You know, I, I started my last company accidentally, you know, I was a college kid met a sheriff’s deputy didn’t know any better got to talking to him about software. And next thing I knew 15 years have passed, and I was in public safety software and was owned by private equity. Right. So like that, that was not, that was not any kind of like premeditated path. Of course, along the way, we got more serious as we went. But I mean, it started as a naive 19 year old that didn’t know any better. I think this time, it’s, it’s more interesting, because you, you certainly there’s still an infinite amount that I didn’t know, and I still don’t know today, but there are some things, you know, that I didn’t know at 19. And so you know, that that has pros and cons. I think in startups, naivete is a really valuable thing in some ways. You know, I often said, knowing what I knew, knowing what I knew, at the end of my stint in the public safety market, if I had known that when I was 19, no way I ever would have started that company, super fragmented market, terrible geographic concentration that made it really hard to grow. Kind of a slow, slow, very slow sales cycle, because of sales to government, like I could, I could give you the 7000 reasons not to get into public safety software. And I could probably do the same with the integration market, right? Like there’s a, it’s sometimes it’s nice not to know what you’re doing, because you just get in there and do it. And so starting another company was really interesting. It was really interesting to be back at the beginning. You know, I had, I think, forgotten what the early days are, like, you know, after 19, or I guess, 15 years, you know, you’re solving very different problems, when you’re 300 employees or whatever with a couple 1000 customers, then you are when you’re three people in a room with no customers, you know, you go back to asking questions, like, who is our customer? And what do they maybe want? Like, I mean, it’s, it’s a very different, I think, more different than I gave up, gave it credit for probably, and going back to the beginning was a really, really interesting experience and was challenging in some ways. But, you know, I think, I think my co founders, and I have kind of settled into it.
Alexander Ferguson 27:36
Hopefully a good challenge that that that, alright, let’s roll up our sleeves. But if you had to think of lessons learned from the first 15 years, that are pivotal and playing a role you’re applying now, in your second, what would that be?
Michael Zuercher 27:52
Um, you know, I think one of the things that made us successful in the last business is how closely we work with customers. Um, you know, we from day, and that was, by necessity, a 19 year old kid, studying electrical engineering doesn’t know anything about how dispatch centers or sheriff’s offices wrong, you know, at least I didn’t. And all of a sudden, I needed to know how you classify who goes into which jail cell in jails in South Carolina, right, like, so I had no idea about that market. And as a result we were forced to get with our customers from from day one, like, there was just no other option. It’s not like we were geniuses to do it. We didn’t have a choice. We didn’t know anything. And I think, you know, I realized along the way, just how fortunate it was that it worked that way. You know, I think we spent so much time with our customers in that first, probably five years of that previous business that we, we were just so embedded in the way they think. And the product was just so wrapped around the way they see their day to day, I guess, that I, I think I will always carry with me, like just how valuable that was. And so, of course, in this business, and at this point, that’s, I mean, it’s common knowledge that that’s what you ought to do. I just think, I think it was, it was so visceral to me, I guess that, you know, in this in this next business, we spent, we spent a ton of time with customers and, and I think even though to some extent we’re, to some extent, our past selves are our own customer. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of, of talking to folks that have different experiences, and in some ways proving our own intuition wrong. And I think that’s been super valuable.
Alexander Ferguson 29:25
Dealing with competition, both from the first business and now with this one. How do you approach it, you pay attention, you ignore you, you what’s your process?
Michael Zuercher 29:37
I mean, I think you have to pay attention to competition, but not let it distract you in any way. And I think that’s important. That’s, that’s like I just stated an impossible thing to do. But, you know, I think that’s what you should aspire to, not just as an individual, but as a company. You know, I think it’s a challenge in a startup or it’s something that’s just done delicately, I guess, to keep everybody aware of the market, especially in a market that’s evolving as fast Just as ours is to keep everybody aware of the market so they can make the right decisions in their day to day around, you know, the work that they’re doing, how do you keep them apprised of the market, but not have them distracted by whatever, Acme Inc, released three days ago that maybe does or maybe doesn’t make a difference. And so, you know, I think I think it’s a delicate balance, there are certainly some competitors that we pay more attention to than others, because we respect the Moore’s the truth. You know, there are some competitors that we, for better or for worse, mostly ignore, because we think, you know, for some reason or another, they’re just on a different course than we are. But I think you have to find a happy medium, you have to find a way not to let it distract you, but to still stay kind of on the pulse of the market. And, you know, all of that said, I think much of what you learned from competitors, is actually about your customers or their customers, perhaps, you know, where, if you’re smart about it, you can you can understand what they’re doing in the context of why they’re doing it, and provided their company respect, you can assume they’re doing it because they’re getting customer signals, that it’s the right thing to do. And I think, I think in that way, watching customers can be really beneficial, because I think it can magnify your exposure to the market, especially in the very early days, where you’re not talking to 100 prospects a week, you know, I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re a much smaller organization. And I think, I think you can use your competitors to leverage your your signals, how do you
Alexander Ferguson 31:19
tell when a competitor is doing something? And you’re like, well, they must be doing that, because there is an interest from from the customer base, versus they’re just trying something, and you don’t know if it’s successful? Is there any indicators or something you look for?
Michael Zuercher 31:35
Yeah, I mean, of course, there are, there’s probably no silver bullet there. Um, you know, I think things that are, our big investments are likely or more likely to not be random experiments done by some little group somewhere. And so I think if you see some, you know, some big investment that’s either being done or has been done, then there’s likely a, you know, a pretty reasonable market reason to have done that. And at that point, then you have to suss out was that, for the same kind of customer that we’re working with, you know, in, you know, because we’re, we’re focused specifically on serving software companies, much of our competition actually has a broader focus, they maybe do that with some part of their product or some amount of their time, but, but they spend maybe most of their time or a lot of their time serving enterprises integrating their own things, like I explained at the beginning. And so at that point, then you have to tease out, you know, what we don’t want we want to make a mistake here and think that just because they build, we should, because they may have built it for a completely different persona than we even have. And honestly, I’m sure we get that wrong as we try to perceive it sometimes. And I don’t know, at the end of the day, you pay attention to customers, and try not to let it distract you too much.
Alexander Ferguson 32:40
I actually actually have interviewed a few folks in the iPad space before, but they are in that exact space of internal integration, but it’s valuable to you come back to your customer, are they truly serving the your, your niche customer, and what your approach of that is? For you, I’m also fascinate, because we also have a lot of business leaders that listen to the series is just how you manage your time, your life, I think you said you have you have a six year old lady, you have kids married, then
Michael Zuercher 33:12
I’m married, and I have three kids, six, eight, and 10.
Alexander Ferguson 33:15
Okay, so balancing, growing a business selling it and then starting a new one. Easy, right? Well, yeah, would you did you? Did you find that right? Balance already with your first company?
Michael Zuercher 33:30
Ah, no. Um, you know, by the time I had kids with my, with my first company, you know, we were in, we were in the midst of nationwide growth, you know, I traveled something like 180 days, for a couple years there. You know, it was just a crazy time. And so, you know, of course, I was around as much as I could be. And it’s not like I was just, you know, absent, but I’m not sure, I could necessarily say that there was what would be commonly considered balance, you know, we were owned by private equity for the last three years, I was there, and then and then sold to more private equity to different private equity. And so, you know, that’s a, that’s a whole experience, it had a very positive experience with all of that, but, but that’s a, I mean, that’s a game in and of itself, for, you know, a set of work in and of itself. And so, I was super busy, super spread thin, and that that kind of, is probably just the way it was it was going to be and so I took some time off after selling that business, which was great. And, you know, spend some time at home and did all the things, the projects that you put off for years, and, you know, some of that and got itchy pretty fast, I guess, to get back into it, I think, you know, it’s it’s all I’ve known since I was 19 years old, and it’s what I love to do. And so, we you know, a couple, a couple of my two co founders, who are people that I worked in the last business with, you know, we somehow or another kind of, you know, got it in our heads that like, we’re stuck on this problem, and we can do something about it. And I don’t know, before I knew it, we we suddenly had a company again, so, you know, as far as far as finding balance this time, you know, I don’t think I don’t think you Start a start up, saying, you know, I’m doing this because I want to work as little as possible. Like, I don’t I don’t if you do, you’re you have a different experience, I guess that maybe I, I have either time. So, you know, there’s no question that we’re, we’re working hard where, you know, the the whole team is, is pulling hard. We’re defining a category right now we’re defining a new segment of a market. And, you know, there’s just a ton of exciting work to do. That said, you know, of course, as my kids get older, and, you know, I probably have some perspective I didn’t have 10 years ago, you know, you find balance, but I am the last guy to ask what the silver bullet for work life balance is? Because I think, I think I have certainly, I’ve certainly been spread thin before.
Alexander Ferguson 35:44
What would your wife say, when you when you said, Alright, I’m starting next month?
Michael Zuercher 35:47
I think she just assumed it was what I would do. I was little, yeah, I, you know, she’s, I’m super fortunate to have, you know, been married for a long time she she was, you know, we were together through the whole last company got married somewhere along the way. And I think she, she probably has better perspective on a lot of it than I do, you know, having having kind of watched and she’s an amazing support.
Alexander Ferguson 36:10
Kevin, to this, because you mentioned a second ago about defining a whole new category industry. There are several different startups and tech companies that are trying that. And it’s not easy. Is there any early lessons learned when it comes to this might be too soon? It’s available to realize that but Well, let’s look a different way. Is there any hurdles that you didn’t expect? And now they’re here? And you’re like, wow, I didn’t expect this one.
Michael Zuercher 36:41
You know, I mean, at the most basic level, I think when we started, we didn’t, we didn’t know how hard it was going to be to explain to the market, why embedded I pass was different in important ways. You know, I think I pass was a established term, and it’s a term that historically and still today largely means enterprises integrating their own things, right. And so, you know, just figuring out the words to use to talk to people was hard. And we spent the first year and a half Congress having conversations where it was just like, you know, words, just going right over people’s head and right by him and us not understanding them. And then I’m not understanding us. And, you know, I think that’s part of the customer discovery process is just spend a ton of time with customers and in the market and with prospects and, and learn how to explain to people the way you see the world that may or may not align with the way they see the world. I think the truth is, for the first year, we were so bad at talking about it that, you know, we, we just needed to learn a lot. And so I think that was maybe where I determined that, that we were, in a lot of ways, probably defining a new category. It’s not like we set off on day one and said, We are here to define a new category, like I think, I think we kind of learned along the way, although we’re part of the iPad space, and that will always be true. We’re a we’re a sub segment of it. And and, you know, and although we’re certainly not the only people that understand that segment, I think we have a unique perspective on it. And in that way, I think we have a important role to play as, as the market kind of decides how that should, how that should work. So
Alexander Ferguson 38:11
we thought, any good tactics on communicating the difference, because you say it’s all about the words, is there a way that you a tactic that’s worked? Well, so far, in communicating those differentiating words?
Michael Zuercher 38:24
It’s a good question. I think, um, I think we just got better at I think we just got better at being really concise at stating the problem, which is, which is in some ways easier when you’re dealing with people who share the problem, you know, because you have a pretty, you know, you have a shared vocabulary, you have a shared, you know, set of experiences that you can refer to, but I think we got a lot better at very concisely defining the problem in a way that makes them understand, oh, we have that problem, too. And maybe we didn’t even recognize it as a problem, because we just took it as the way the world is, you know, but but once you, I think we got better at describing that as a problem that people understood as a problem. And then it became much easier, obviously, to discuss the and here’s our viewpoint on what a solution should look like. Then that almost becomes the easier part. But I think, I think helping people identify that this is a problem is kind of a bigger picture problem. was probably the, you know, the biggest thing that we overcame
Alexander Ferguson 39:27
it taking it a step back, looking at the future of integration and integration tools and in embedded iPads, and I pass Yeah. What would you predict if you just like, look down three, five years from now? What’s it gonna look like and where you guys gonna be?
Michael Zuercher 39:46
I think there’s no question that software companies a year from now, three years from now, five years from now will increasingly rely on platforms like prismatic to build and deploy their integrations, I think, I mean, I should probably shouldn’t say this but I think that’s true with prismatic or without prismatic? I think that is a, I think the market is moving that way. I think it’s just the right thing for software companies. And so I think it’s, it’s just naturally going to happen. Now, I think, I think prismatic is in a really interesting place. Because I think we have a, a pretty unique perspective, I guess, due to all of our experience. And due to kind of the way we approached the problem two or three years ago, I think we have a really valuable part to play in defining what the solution there looks like. I think companies are going to rely on platforms, I think, how well those platforms serve them is a bit of a, you know, a bit of an open issue as the market develops. And I think we have an important role to play in shaping that, I guess the way we we see it, you know, the way we believe that it should develop,
Alexander Ferguson 40:48
you see the the way they will be integrated changing in the future, like it just at the technology level of how software talks to each other? Is it ever going to become easier or change?
Michael Zuercher 41:00
You know, I think, I think yes, it will get easier, and then some other things will probably make it harder, you know, I mean, we increasingly are relying on rest API’s or Graph QL API’s, we’ve at least started to standardize on those technologies. Now, everybody’s definition of rest seems a little bit different, and whatever. So it’s not like this is a utopia. But I mean, certainly we’re coming, coming to a place of standards with modern new software, you know, the same could be said, for, for data formats. I mean, we’re, we’re a lot of the world is pretty standardized on JSON at this point. You know, you certainly have plenty of XML in the world as well. But you know, you’re we’re getting to where we’ve got some some standards, I guess, with the way all of that’s working, and there’s no question that that makes integrations easier to build. And I think you’re gonna continue seeing trends like that, I think, I think companies will get better at building good rest API’s, I think Graph QL has an important part to play with certain kinds of datasets or certain kinds of API’s, I think it’s can be very advantageous. The prismatic API internally is built on Graph QL. And it’s been a really good thing for us and our customers. So yeah, I think I think technology is constantly marching forward and solving the problems large and small, you know, kind of up and down the technology stack that relates to integrations. However, I think at the same exact time that that’s happening, other things fly out, out flying from, you know, left field that none of us are certainly that I can’t predict. You know, I think I think there is a proliferation of b2b software that is unprecedented. And I think by definition, that means integrations are going to be a more and more important part in this whole thing. So I think, even though they may be getting easier, I think everybody’s going to be building more of them. I think customer expectations are getting higher around security and compliance and uptime and, and functionality of integrations. And so I think just as fast as they get easier by solving some of the, like, technical problems, expectations get higher and other technical things become problems. And you know, I think I think it will be a battle forever.
Alexander Ferguson 43:04
Well, if you are looking for an embedded Ipaas solution, you’re going to head over to prismatic.io That’s prismatic PRISMATIC.IO. Thank you, Michael, for being on the series was great to have you man.
Michael Zuercher 43:20
Yeah, thank you.
Alexander Ferguson 43:22
And we’ll see you all on the next episode of UpTech Report. Have you seen a company using AI machine learning or other technology to transform the way we live, work and do business? Go to UpTech report.com and let us know