My name is Björn Milton and I co-founded Twingly 10 years ago together with 3 other guys. For 4 years I worked as the CTO there. Now I am the CEO of another startup called Roombler.
I still work with Twingly as the chairman of the board. So I still put a lot of thought into the company. When I’m not thinking about Twingly, the rest of my time is spent thinking about Roombler. So I have a pretty good picture about both of the companies. So I thought I’d write a post about some of the similarities and some of the differences that I see between the two companies.
As you probably know if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, Twingly deals in data. Blog data from around the world is gathered, processed and analyzed. This data is then distributed to customers, mainly via two different products. It is very much a question of making sure that we discover and collect as much data as possible as fast as possible. Customers interacts with Twingly through APIs. They receive data on a continuous basis. The data is very much the product. It is computers, not humans, that interact with Twingly for the most part. Twingly has a global customer base.
Roombler is a mobile control panel for small accommodation services. Our customers include smaller hotels, vacation rentals, B&Bs, apartment rentals (think AirBnb) and so on. We make it easy for the operators and staff of these businesses to handle reservations/bookings, guests, prices and availability. We make sure that external systems (such as sales channels) are kept in sync. Roombler is a mobile app and is always available to the users. Roomblers customers are very global in nature and we already have customers on all the continents.
There are a lot of similar aspects between the two companies. I’ll go over a handful of them here.
Both Twingly and Roombler are B2B-companies. Our customers are other businesses that wants to buy our services. The opposite is a consumer driven model, B2C. In general I personally tend to like B2B better. To me it is a more concrete model where it is obvious that if Company A can provide value to Company B then Company B is willing to pay for that. It is also often much easier to pinpoint and reach out to the correct segments in the B2B case. In late years, we have seen an upswing of the B2B tech companies with high valuations and some IPOs.
Both are product based companies, we build one product that many will buy. The opposite would be a company that sells professional services. They sell their time and build custom solutions for each customer. I tend to gravitate towards product based companies since I like to realize my ideas, not the ideas of somebody else. Of course we listen a lot to our customers, but it is always from a product perspective. We don’t build stuff that we don’t think would benefit the product as a whole.
Both are SaaS based companies. That means that the products are sold as services where the customer buys the outcome of the service. In Twingly’s case they buy data and doesn’t care about how that data has been collected and stored. In Roombler’s case the customer buys the right to access Roombler service through an app on their mobile device. They don’t need to keep a server of their own to store the data, they can access the product from anywhere and they don’t have to worry about uptimes or updating their software.
A very common business model in connection to SaaS is the idea that the customer will pay over time. Instead of paying a large sum upfront, the cost is spread out over time to better match the cost with the value. In Twinglys case this is very natural due to the nature of the business. As a customer you’ll buy access to data that is delivered to you over time. It would be very hard to find an upfront model that would work in this case.
In Roombler’s case the property management system business (PMS) is very much coming from an old pay upfront type of model. This is not very ideal for the customer, especially not if you’re a small business. So, for our segment, and in connection to the SaaS model it is very natural for us to use a subscription based model.
Both companies are at the core driven by technology and big resources are spent towards making sure the systems are functioning and towards making continuous improvements. This means that we have more developers than sales people. It means that we have the ability to quickly build new things, to constantly innovate. Both companies are founded by tech people, by developers.
During the years I have seen a lot of startups that have been founded without having the tech people at the core, in the founding team. This is, in my experience, always a bad thing because it tend to lead to a situation where the technical parts are seen as some one off that can be purchased and then put to work. If you build a technology driven business (which most businesses are today) you need to have tech people and developers at the core of the business.
There are also a lot of differences between the two companies:
For Twingly, the customer is often a larger organization with departments and multiple levels of management. Mostly the actual person that does the deal is a business person of some sort. This person looks at it from a business perspective and doesn’t care that much about the actual interaction with Twingly’s systems. So at the 10 000 feet level, the customer only cares about the data. But there are of course more actors in the process that needs to be tended to, not at least the developers that will be doing the integration part.
Roombler sells to smaller, owner driven organizations, where the owner is most often the one we talk directly to. The product will also be used by the owner and therefore cares a great deal about the actual user experience. Roombler is the central business system of these organizations. If they cannot access Roombler or if we do something wrong it will greatly affect our customers. Roombler is mission critical to these businesses.
Twingly operates on a very well defined niche market. The number of potential customers are counted in the tens of thousands. It is a market that is largely underserved and our customers is constantly looking for better and more data. The market can relatively easy be processed with outbound activities. It is feasible to call or email every known potential customer.
Roombler’s market is much bigger in terms of potential customers. The potential customers are counted in the millions. This makes for an interesting challenge when trying to communicate with them. It is simply impossible for us to reach all of those customers by outbound actions. We very much need to build a inbound based process where the majority of the customers find us.
Twingly sells its products to relatively few customers. Each deal is worth quite some money and the sales process is often of some considerable length. The product is often sold to companies that in their turn takes the data and sells it to their customers. As such, it is easy to see that the product is adding directly to the customers revenue.
Roombler is much more a mass market product and we’re catering smaller businesses. As such the pricing point is much lower. As a comparison, Roomblers entry level pricing point is about 2% of Twinglys entry level pricing point. Also, Roombler is not as direct in adding revenue as Twingly.
So, there you have it. Some of the differences and similarities of the two companies. Each business is unique of course, but I think it is valuable to compare your business to others. That will help you understand your own business on a much deeper level and enables you to put some context around who you are and what you’re doing.
By Björn Milton