Sep 13 2010

Woobius pushing the self-service SaaS offer

From its April 2009 launch, Woobius* has been looking to differentiate itself from competitors by virtue of its simplicity (see posts 1, 2). It still believes this is the right approach (albeit less overtly) and while most of its Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) construction collaboration competitors, UK and overseas, still employ conventional sales and deployment consultants, Woobius has developed its offering so that project teams can quickly – and simply – create a project team collaboration environment in just minutes.

Social promotion

Among the construction collaboration technology vendors that I monitor, I think Woobius is perhaps the most prolific in its use of social media, and over the past 2-3 weeks it has been making a series of interesting Twitter announcements and blog posts. In late August, we heard about the new Woobius correspondence module, last week we heard about the new Woobius project dashboard, and predating both were Tweets about an online tie-up with UK industry title, Building. Last week at London’s Building Centre (also on Twitter), I met up with Woobius luminaries Bob Leung and James Goodfellow to learn more about these developments.

Licensed to encourage collaboration

When I first blogged about Woobius, the collaboration proposition was all about simplicity. This was a web-based collaboration application designed by architects for architects, and aiming to be simple to use. Bob says it does not seek to compete direct with sophisticated rival products (eg: 4Projects, Asite, BIW, etc) – indeed he sees potential synergies where Woobius’ simple approach is used for early-stage feasibility, concept, speculative or competition-type projects with the heavy-duty systems later used to manage the complexities of major project delivery. However, he feels there is also room in the market for a web-based system that can be used to manage small-scale projects (small office or domestic extension or refurbishment schemes, for example) that will never justify the use of a high-end platform. His optimism is perhaps justified, as he says the Woobius collaboration platform has amassed some 8,500 users since its launch.

Less overtly simple

The original overt focus on “simply simple” collaboration has been diluted somewhat in the new iteration of Woobius’s website, though the strapline currently survives in the homepage title. Now the focus of the home page is ‘manage and organise your projects’ with the target markets clearly identifed – project managers, architects, engineers, contractors – and the platform is firmly stamped “For Construction” amid a range of endorsements from happy Woobius users. However, the hand-drawn sketches that have been such a feature of Woobius’ web pages and the videos remain. Bob explained they wanted to make the Woobius product offering explicit, and then use the images of the product, including the new dashboard, to demonstrate that the product was clear and simple to understand and use.

Users can now sign up to use Woobius completely online, creating a platform that is accessible “off the shelf”, to use Bob’s words, to any number of authorised users without requiring any vendor set-up or configuration. Having no limit on users (a common feature when vendors launched their platforms in the early 2000s – though Asite has since offered a per-seat licensing option) is a key, says Bob:

“In a margin-sensitive and often techno-phobic industry like construction, it is silly to expect designers, contractors, consultants and the rest of the supply chain to pay for individual log-ins. We want to encourage take-up and use. We think our unlimited users approach encourages collaboration at an individual project level; it also encourages ‘viral’ collaboration, with existing users looking to use Woobius on subsequent projects for other clients.”

For me, being able to sign-up to use the service online is closer to ideal of Software-as-a-Service, whereby an account can be opened at any time and payments made online without the intervention of a vendor’s sales or deployment staff. Such self-service approaches mean the service can be switched on immediately when it’s convenient for the customer, without a delay while accounts are created, contracts and service level agreements signed, etc. From a Woobius point of view, more importantly, this approach is also much more scalable; the resulting challenge, therefore, is to make as many people aware of the platform as possible.

The basic Woobius platform was originally free, with more storage and other ‘bells and whistles’ offered for a low fee (eg: £10 per Gb per month), but Bob and his team have kept this under constant review. In February this year (see Woobius simplifies pricing of “simply simple” collaboration solution), they revised the Woobius pricing structure, and they have taken the opportunity of this latest revamp to make further revisions (read: increases), drawing heavily on results from user surveys the company has undertaken. The result is a pricing structure that highlights the most popular option – ‘Team‘: £50/month, for up to 10 projects, 10GB storage – in between £25 ‘Solo‘ and £199 power user ‘Company‘ solutions. At either extreme, a free trial option remains (in small print) and there is an unlimited ‘Enterprise‘ offer from £195/month upwards. In a still very price-sensitive market, these are prices that are still likely to be attractive to the many potential customers whose project requirements fall short of the high-end systems, which Bob freely admits have paved the way over the past decade for other collaboration businesses to enter the market.

Building promotion

Given the target markets for Woobius, the microsite hosted by Building makes sense; the title, after all, has the best pan-industry readership of any of the UK construction industry weekly magazines – stretching across industry professionals, contractors, suppliers and clients – and banner and MPU advertising on its website will reach a similarly wide audience, including overseas readers.

Building, like other construction titles, is having to cope, post-recession, with falling readership figures and dwindling advertising and recruitment revenues, and the challenges of managing a still-evolving hybrid print/online business models (most of the website’s editorial content disappeared behind a paywall earlier this year), so a promotional relationship with a collaboration vendor will be an interesting test of the publisher’s ability to reach an online audience with details of this online product/service.

Woobius, of course, is not the first vendor to advertise with Building (Business Collaborator, now UNIT4 Collaboration Services, has promoted its services through Building in the past, and while at BIW I negotiated a year-long online editorial-related advertising deal in 2008-09. The difference here, though, is that both BC and BIW still needed their staff to follow-up and close any sales leads generated by their advertising; Woobius, by contrast, will be able to offer potential customers immediate access to its online platform. And if Woobius makes a success of this initial promotional foray, quickly converting eyeballs into paying users, I expect it will be looking to expand its brand awareness campaign to other channels.

[* Disclosure: Woobius is a past PR consultancy client of Ltd]

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