We are in the middle of a major wave of startups building software to improve workplace productivity; now a company focused on making legacy enterprise apps more useful (and used) is picking up traction and announcing funding. Sapho — which builds what it refers to as “micro apps” for older software that does not already offer notifications whenever data is updated or projects are completed — has raised $9.5 million in a Series A round of funding after signing up a trove of customers while still in stealth, including CBS Interactive, Google, RPX Corporation and Turner.
The funding is being led by new investor Alsop Louie Partners, with participation also from SoftTech VC, Caffeinated Capital, Morado Ventures, AME Cloud (Jerry Yang’s fund) and Bloomberg Beta. It comes nearly two years after Sapho announced a $3 million seed round pre-launch.
The premise of Sapho is an interesting one: there may be a lot of interesting new software hitting the market that is going to disrupt legacy players over time, but in many cases a lot of large businesses are not going to be migrating from their old systems that soon. At the same time, while software may be remaining static, employees are not, and they are wanting better and more up to date tools like smartphones and intuitive apps to do their work better — a trend that is often described as the “consumerization of IT.”
This is where Sapho comes into the picture: the startup has created a platform and lots of pre-configured “micro apps” that integrate with lots of different, standard software packages, from sales and accounting software to HR management platforms. These Sapho apps, in turn, become a way for employees to keep up to date on information in those apps, without going through the cumbersome process of actually using them.
This is a problem that Sapho’s three co-founders — Fouad ElNaggar, Peter Yared, and Charles Christolini — all discovered first-hand when working together at CBS before leaving to start Sapho. When they first described the problem of IT at most enterprise companies to me, they called the millions of dollars invested in enterprise software and the subsequent lack of use, “the dirty secret” of the IT industry.
Sapho apps are available as preconfigured options, or a company can also create their own in cases where they are not. Pricing ranges from $2/user/month to $10/user/month depending on the size of the company, and irrespective of how many micro apps are used or how much.
Yared, who had been CTO of CBS Interactive, believes that Sapho is tapping into a bigger trend that we are seeing across a number of other companies and in a number of other guises: the idea of a “single-purpose interactive unit” that is built using HTML or a derivative, that produces a single action. Other examples, he says, are interactive notifications in iOS (where you can, say, respond to a Facebook message without opening the app). “We think micro apps are a trend unto themselves,” he said.
Of course, the fact that you can already do this on iOS points to one of the potential hitches for Sapho: platforms might sweep in to offer similar types of services, and over time companies will update their software, eventually, and those new generations of software will likely come with notifications built in.
So unsurprisingly, Sapho is already working on what will come next, and in some ways this part is potentially even more exciting. That will include more machine learning technology to be able to visualise what people are using, and how, in order for IT departments to better plan their own systems out better. And Sapho is also looking at how to translate its intra-company system into something that can be used between different organizations — for example between a company and its wider supply chain or sales channel.
“People need ways of communicating better with partners outside the firewall,” Yared told me. “An internal ticketing system, for example, that works with resellers, and helps track complaints. Right now a lot of those just go into a black hole, but you could install an app that gives you a push notification that goes out to a broader ecosystem.”
It’s also integrating with Slack (of course) and looking for ways to make their single-purpose micro apps more functional, for example by including the ability to offer lookups of customers or other kinds of searches.
One area where it’s staying away for now, though, are bots: the experience so far has proven to be so inconsistent and often too poor, Yared said — the very antithesis of productivity.